9. Oct, 2016

Tiger Beach: where shark addicts go.

Tiger beach Bahamas is  one of the best locations in the world for meeting tiger sharks in a relatively safe environment. No diving site  has probbaly produced so many amazing underwater pictures and videos,  eliciting just as many gasps of admiration when published on the internet. Several  dive operators are now active in an area  that was  discovered only fifteen years ago. Its  located on little Bahama Banks some 20 miles north of West End, Grand Bahamas, with  approximate coordinates N 26°59,  W 79°08. Here a sandy  and shallow plateau lies just at the edge of the deep blue water of the gulfstream. Which means that visibility  may change between murky green and crystal clear blue, depending on the direction of the current and the tides.

My first visit to tiger beach was in  February 2009 on Jim Abernethy’s live aboard Shear Water.  We boarded in the late afternoon in West Palm Beach to cross the gulfstream at night. The side current in combination with a pretty strong wind made the boat pitch and roll fiercely as soon as we left the harbor. Which meant frequent toilet visits at night. Luckily in the early  morning  when we checked  customs at Grand Bahamas the misery had ended and we felt in much better shape. Nowadays one can also opt for a land-based trip, giving the opportunity to explore Grand Bahama Island. The trip to Tiger beach will take around 2 hours leaving from West End early in the  morning and another 2 hours returning late in the afternoon.

There are certain  tiger sharks that have gained celebrity status because they are consistently seen year after year.  Some even became 'supermodels' because of their willingness to pose for underwaterphotographers. However, unlike our famous fashion models, these models are not rewarded with a lot of money but tiny pieces of fish. One of the older 'matrons' is Emma, the most famous  and  massive tiger shark. Then there is Hook with her bent lower jaw  and Princess with her generally gentle demeanor. Some juvenile tigers may also show up with their conspicuous black stripe patterns.  

The dives are shallow and  relatively easy with  two  options, a white sandy floor or seaweed beds.  Although the sharks will usually  spend more  attention to  the bait and its provider than to the divers, one should keep a close eye on the tiger sharks when they move in and mix with the lemons.  Lemons often congregate in groups circling the bait box above the sand. But tiger sharks may  ‘sneak  up’  from behind, so  it’s important  to keep your head turning like a periscope. Or watch the signals of your buddies supposed to point at a tiger shark when it’s behind you.

Most dive operators use a metal bait box placed on the sand for hand outs, and plastic crates filled with pieces of fish hanging from the boat to spread the scent.  Some operators may throw  pieces of bait from the boat to alert the sharks at the start of a dive. When a tiger shark moves in with a current, it will often swim upstream following the scent of the bait. It will then pass the row of divers, nicely lined up with the current and kneeling on the sand with their cameras in position (see picture above,  taken on a Stuart Cove trip).

Best moments to ‘shoot’  the sharks are when everything is nice and quiet, with the tiger sharks gliding gracefully through the blue and sunlit water. Sometimes closing in to inspect you or your camera. These are the truly serene and magic moments you  hope to witness during your visit.  On the other hand a shark frenzy means that you have to be very attentive. This may happen  now and then when  one of the  sharks   bites and breaks a plastic crate with fish.  It will trigger immediate chaos, with Caribbean reef sharks darting in and fighting over the fish bits.  Visibility will deteriorate due to the stirred up sand. Not the tiger but the Caribbean sharks have the reputation of biting accidently  a leg or arm of a diver that moves in too close to the bait in the turmoil.

There are various shots you can consider. A  close up of a tiger or lemon shark swimming towards you, or even the ‘open mouth’ shot staged by the dive master. Another option  are shots taken from the boat, like a Gopro on a pole stuck under the water surface from the dive platform.  Or a topside picture  of a ‘breaching’ shark, when it lifts its head out of the water to catch that little piece of fish.  Difficult,  but very rewarding (IF it works!)  is an ‘over under’  shot with the strobe lit body of the shark under the surface, and its head above the surface contrasting with a nice sunset.