We've been in the water for about an hour now. There's about a dozen Lemon sharks circling around us. Suddenly Julie points into the distance and I quickly swirl my head that way. There is no mistaking the shape,size and pattern, here's comes our first Tiger shark. Immediately the attitude of the divers changes; while you can basically ignore the Lemon sharks, you can not ignore the Tiger. It's great to be back!
In 2007 Julie and I went on our first Tiger and Dolphins trip with Eric Cheng. We liked it so much we decided to come back this year. Julie even did the Oceanic Whitetip trip but I didn't really want to do that trip as it can be a total bust. I wasn't looking forward to sitting on a tiny boat for a 10 days doing nothing. Luckily they did see plenty of Oceanic Whitetips. So Julie was already in Florida as I arrived, and Eric, Julie and myself entertained ourselves for three days waiting for the next trip to start.
After a night's crossing we arrived in West End in the Bahamas for the immigration formalities. The boat take care of all of that so we just relaxed and finished setting up our gear. This is one of the things I really like about this trip, everything is done on your own time, there is no schedule, hurry or pressure. An hour or so later we arrived at Tiger Beach, where almost all the Tiger Shark diving is done and the fun could begin.
The Shearwater is a tiny boat, so it's important that everyone gets along. Luckily most people on this trip knew each other. Larry, Frank, Eric, Ken, Julie, Don and myself had been on last year's Solomons trip. The only one we didn't know personally was Jim, but that didn't matter as he fit right in. Don took Larry, Ken and Jim in first to get used to being around sharks. The crew has very strict rules underwater, especially when Tiger sharks are around. You must always look 360 degrees around you and if they see anyone not looking around enough they tell you. If they have to tell you too often they may even take you out of the water. You can not get complacent with this kind of diving. An hour or so later the rest of us joined in, and we spent the rest of the afternoon with lots of lemons and tigers.
The next morning I woke up at 8:30 and stumbled upstairs for some coffee. We were still at Tiger Beach for another full day of diving with Tiger Sharks. Before any of us had entered the water the first Tiger showed up. We all jumped in and in no time more Tigers showed up. During the rest of the day we had a total of 4 Tiger sharks with us at all times which can be a litte nerv wrecking as you have to continuously look around. Spend a few seconds too long in your view finder and a Tiger shark can sneak up on you. In the late afternoon most of us tried some black background shots.
The third day we mostly dove on some reefs. The idea here is to get a nice reef scenic shot with a shark in the background. There was a ripping current that made things a little difficult, but it went quite well overall. At the end of my dive a Tiger shark showed up, which made me a little anxious during the safety stop on the dropline. Later that afternoon we decided to move to a different dive site because the current was just too strong. We went to a wreck, which turned out to be a really good choice as immediately a Tiger showed up and stayed with us for hours. Not only that, there were stingrays, reefsharks, nurse sharks, morays and all kinds of other fish joining the fray.
Day four and we're hunting for dolphins. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the area they frequent the most we already spotted a pod. We jumped in and for about an hour or so the dolphins stayed with us and played, my best dolphin encounter so far. All of us thought this would be the start of a great day of dolphins, but unfortunately we didnt see a single dolphin the rest of the day.
Since we only had 1 shot at dolphins so far, we did another day of dolphin searching. We had a good encounter in the morning but the rest of the day was the stuff of nightmares. First, we find a sailboat that's adrift and empty. The US Coastguard was doing a search and rescue for a missing guy but nothing turned up. A few hours later, we see another set of US coastguard helicopters circling a small craft that's been turned over. Jimmy offered assistance and sent 2 divers in to investigate the vessel. Unfortunately there were 4 bodies inside, and what happened next I'd rather forget as we witnessed one of the bodies being consumed by a Tiger Shark. This is not some kind of malice by the shark, they're scavengers and this is what they do. The story appeared in newspapers a few days later, although heavily distorted. We didn't talk much that evening as everyone had to go through what they witnessed in their own way. On a positive note, we had an absolutely beautiful sunset.
On the final day we mostly did Tiger Snaps. I felt a bit weird about doing this considering the previous day's horrible events. But I think everyone just wanted to forget about what happened and spend the last day just having fun. The goal is to get a Tiger shark chasing a piece of fish and lunge out of the water. It worked quite well and it's pretty entertaining, especially with Jimmy's commentary. He's really enthousiastic about this and everything else when it comes to sharks which makes these trips even more enjoyable. We also tried out a Seacam polecam, which is a cool piece of equipment. It has a seperate screen that you can see through, allowing you to see underwater while your housing is suspended below the surface on a pole. You can trigger the shutter with a release on the remote screen. It was interesting, but way too expensive. Unfortunately the day didn't end on a good note, as on the way back to Florida we almost ran into the same overturned boat we saw yesterday. The Bahama's police had allowed the boat to drift into a busy shipping lane. Insane!
This was a pretty eventful trip and the weather wasn't as good as it could be which limited the encounters we could have. We really only had 3 or so good Dolphin swims, and maybe 2 good Tiger days. The sad events made everything a little sour, but all in all we did have a good time, both before and during the trip and we hope to be back in the not too distant future.