Seeing a shark during a dive is a highlight for any scuba diver. Sadly, this is becoming a rarer occurrence all over the world as threats to sharks multiply and their numbers continue to fall. Some countries, however, understand the value of sharks to both their economy and environment so have made big changes to protect them. The Bahamas joined that list in 2011, becoming a shark sanctuary and protecting all sharks in their waters from being killed. Because of this focus on protection, the Bahamas has become synonymous with great shark dives. Here are four of the top shark encounters in the Bahamas.
Oceanic whitetip sharks, Cat Island
Migrating tuna attract oceanic whitetips to Cat Island. The long, thin island sits right at the edge of the continental shelf, bringing the Atlantic’s deep waters close to shore. Oceanic whitetip sharks are large, pelagic requiem sharks. This stocky shark’s most distinctive features are its long, white-tipped, rounded fins. The first dorsal fin is distinctively large and rounded, and the paddle-like pectoral fins are very long and wide. They are quite stocky and can grow up to 13 feet long (4 m).
Depleted in much of their range, the oceanic whitetip population of the outer Bahamian islands is still thriving, making this a unique and rare encounter. The best time to see them is in April and May, when both the sharks and sport fishermen are there to land a big catch. The species is usually solitary, but individuals congregate around Cat Island when food is plentiful.
Boats attract the sharks by throwing dead fish into the water…and then waiting. The first sign of arrival is the distinctive white dorsal fin popping out of the water. The sharks hang out just under the surface and down to about 40 feet (12 m). With the clear, blue water and amazing visibility, the sharks look spectacular.
Monitor your depth closely during these dives as although you are just under the surface, you are diving in very deep water where you may not even see the bottom. To get here, first fly to Nassau on New Providence and catch a smaller plane to Cat Island.
Tiger sharks, Grand Bahama
Grand Bahama is a well-known vacation destination and home to the famous Tiger Beach dive site, located on the island’s west end, roughly 20 miles (32 km) off the coast. The best time to see tigers here is between October and January when numbers are usually greater.
Tiger sharks are so named for the beautiful stripes on their bodies which are quite vivid when they are young and fade with age. Growing up to 18 feet (5.5 m) long and weighing up to 2,000 pounds (907 kg), they are an awesome sight up close. Tigers are the fourth largest shark and second-largest predatory shark, behind only the great white.
Tiger Beach is quite shallow, so wear extra weight to keep you planted on your knees in the sand while you sit and watch the show. Again, boats will use bait to entice the sharks in. Lemon sharks and nurse sharks frequently appear as well.
One of the Bahamas’ most popular destinations, Grand Bahama is less than 60 miles from the Florida coast, making it a fast, easy and affordable flight.
Great hammerhead sharks, Bimini
Great hammerheads, the largest of the species, can reach maximum lengths of 20 feet (6 m). And with their distinctive head shape and long, graceful bodies, this makes for an unforgettable encounter. Bimini has three islands: North, South, and East Bimini, with most dive operators running out of North Bimini. The dive sites are quite close to shore and only about a 20-minute boat ride. The dive site itself is very shallow, so the same applies as at Tiger Beach — you’ll want to overweight yourself to stay stable on your knees while you watch the show.
A shark wrangler will hand-feed these beautiful sharks, bringing them extremely close to divers. Bull sharks and nurse sharks will likely be hanging around nearby as an added bonus. The best time to see them around Bimini is from December to April.
Just 50 miles (80 km) off Florida’s coast, Bimini is the closest Bahamian island to the United States. The main airport is on South Bimini and it’s quick and easy to travel to North Bimini via water taxi if you’re using a dive operator there.
Caribbean reef sharks, New Providence
New Providence is the most populated Bahamian island and home to the capital, Nassau. Most dive sites are southwest of New Providence, thanks to the deep trench called the “Tongue of the Ocean” that nears land here. A short boat trip delivers you to sites with plentiful Caribbean reef sharks, which display the characteristic shark form. They’ve got long, powerful, streamlined bodies, a large dorsal fin, and greyish upperparts fading into a white underside.
The sharks have made their permanent home here, so they are common on these sites without baiting. If you wish for an up-close encounter, some dive operators feed the sharks, which can be an exhilarating experience. Unlike the other experiences listed here, you can see Caribbean reef sharks year-round.
Nassau has a busy international airport with direct routes to many cities worldwide. If you’re flying on to an outer island, you’ll likely connect through Nassau as well.
Choosing an operator
Many dive operators run these trips; some are land-based, and some are liveaboard. With a little research you can find the one that suits your needs, but whichever you choose, be sure to listen closely to recommendations and safety briefings when diving with any sharks. Get to know local regulations and protocols. Safety for both you and the sharks is paramount to allowing continued interactions in the future.