26. Feb, 2019

Bahamian impressions

This year February my wife permitted meCool  to do my usual Bahamian  ‘two-step’ trip again, that is visiting two shark sites, mostly Tiger Beach and Bimini (another nice trip is Bimini and Cat Island later in the year, combining GHs and Oceanic white tips). The boat ‘Tresher’’  from the Cannabals takes the divers from the Marina at Bootle Bay at Grand Bahamas to Tiger Beach,  which is an almost two hours lasting trip. Plenty of time to read that nice book.  The Tiger Beach excursions are always well organized,  with the shark encounters taking place in relaxed and controlled conditions,  created by Vincent and Debra Cannabal and their captain (see picture). Big Tiger Sharks here are not to be seen as ferocious but rather as  ‘sweet’ creatures. Almost ‘dog-like’ the way they line up for their share of the bait. With the tiger sharks blinking their nictitating mem-brane when they take the bait, creating the impression of shyly rolling their eyes. 

Flamingo air has a  regular  25 minutes shuttle plane running between Grand Bahamas and Bimini. At Bimini, Neal Watson is still the main operator for the shark safaris, although this year I also spotted a little boat run by  Stuart Cove, normally operating in Nassau. The Watson boat takes the divers in a 20 minutes ride to the baiting site, mostly in sheltered waters of South Island. Unfortunately, the local weather gods were not with us this time, given the strong winds and torrential rains sweeping over the Big Game resort on Saturday 16 February After such violent weather conditions, one can hardly expect to find the crystal clear blue water above pure white sand, on which Bimini has built its reputation. The GHs where there nevertheless on Friday and Sunday with a rather big girl called Gaia circling regularly around the bait box.

Interestingly, the shark populations at Tiger Beach as well as Bimini have recently become more diverse. At Tiger Beach, the UW scene is dominated normally by lemon sharks and Carribean sharks with the tiger sharks moving in after a while.  GHs now also tend to visit Tiger Beach more frequently with ‘Patches’  (or: (Scylla), a huge, dominant and beautifully pigmented female hammerhead often rushing in after a couple of minutes. The bull sharks also seemed less timid than in former years, although still keeping a greater distance from the bait box and divers.  

Likewise, at  Bimini where one traditionally sees GHs, pushing themselves through a ring of nurse sharks gathered around the bait box, the tiger sharks are now also more frequent visitors. Neal Watson now also offers non-divers an opportunity to watch the Bull sharks from within a small cage, attached to a wooden platform. Here a regular gang of around six big bull sharks is closing in around the cage in the afternoon, attracted by pieces of bait thrown in front of the cage.  With some pelicans trying to get a crumb, careful not to get caught by the sharks

Point of concern. This year a big group of Chinese divers visited the Big Game club  (BGC) at Bimini in February.  The size of the group and the fact that they had booked collectively was the probable reason why the  BGC had reserved practically all the ground rooms facing the garden for the Asian visitors. This also held for the diving boat chartered on several occasions by the Chinese divers.  Considering the reputation of China as the major shark finning industry one can’t help feeling a bit worried about the sudden interest of Chinese tourist agencies for Bimini, being the sanctuary of the GH. The positive side  (apart for the profit for the Bahamian Economy) is that it could be a sign of a changing attitude of the young Chinese generation towards the environment, now admiring the huge dorsal fin of the GH  from another perspective than that of sheer consumption. And showing back home their GoPro selfies with the Hammerheads as a background.The Bahamian government should be aware, however, to keep control of resorts like BCG and not selling out to the Chinese. Which could mean a.o that local Bahamians now working in the tourist sector will lose their jobs