The sound of the boat was enough to draw in a few dozen sharks. The chum kept the school of fish ultra hyper. Always maintain eye contact and watch your back, the captain briefed us group of divers at the famous Tiger Beach.
We anchored at Tiger Beach, Fish Tail in the Bahamas. Tiger Beach, famous for its tiger sharks, is in fact not an actual beach. It is an hour boat ride from the Grand Bahama Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. At 40 FT, this patch of shallow warm water attracts mostly (pregnant) females. This podcast features a marine ecologist speaking in detail about the shark ecology in this area.
The [Caribbean] reef sharks and lemon sharks are anywhere from 5 to 10 feet long. They are mostly harmless, but the reef sharks can be excitable and aggressive in the presence of baits. So watch your back. Do not surface swim. And definitely do not swim near that box of chum.
The captain continued the briefing,
When a shark swims to you, you have to stand your ground. Do not swim away, because that’s what their preys do. You can take a PVC pipe if that makes you more comfortable. It’s not for poking the sharks, but your last line of defense so that they bite the pipe before they bite you. As for tigers, you should feel lucky if you see one. Always watch your back. The tigers are ambush predators. Are you sufficiently scared?
Each diver’s face was priceless. We were scared shitless.
Some girls took the PVC pipes with them. I did not. Neither did I had a selfie stick for GPRO. Yes, I was probably crazy, but I knew I’d just be fine. I wanted the most authentic interaction with the sharks.
The first big stride entry off the dive boat into a sea of sharks was absolutely terrifying. I can clearly see a group of reef sharks swarming underneathe the dive platform because of that box of chum (or because of us petrified humans?). If I were to jump in, I would land on top of the sharks. They will probably bite in retaliation?
Off I go. I felt reckless. Big slash. The surface is temporarily clear of sharks. I had on extra weights, and began the descent immediately. At 25 feet, a curious 7-foot long reef shark swam towards me. Its snout got bigger and bigger. FUCK! There was nothing I could do. I did not turn, and neither did I swim away. I stared – ever so intensely. The shark’s freckled head was now within arms reach. I prayed that the captain’s words were indeed true. A wag in the dorsal fin, it turned to eye me, and swam down towards the reef.
Relief. Exhale. My life was at the mercy of that shark, the apex predator of the ocean.
Rattle. That means Tiger’s near. Look behind you. It’s obviously a tiger. Dark grey stripes lined her body, resembling the coat of a Siberian feline. Her head so wide, eyes so dark, she magistically moved through the water with her group of remoras. She’s three times the size of an average reef shark. What an awesome sight.
This particular tiger we encountered did not have a name, so I fondly named her Coconut. Curious like the reef shark, she swam towards me, sniffed and chewed on my white Seawing Nova fins. Thankfully there were no marks on the fin. Every diver kept a close eye on her. I gazed in awe as her caudal fin turned from grey to deep blue every time she swam away, making me lose sight of her. Her huge body effortlessly blended in with water at distance. At around 20 feet of visiblity that day, the water in the distance looked like static TV signal, blotches of white, grey, and black blinking and flashing. My eyes strained from staring.
Coconut never failed to surprise me. She swam westard away into the vast ocean against the current, but managed to circle around and appear from the east, “ambushing” from my right, a direction I was not watching closely. This time, she decided to wedge through the few feet distance between me and a fellow diver.
Coconut’s antics became more predicatable. I knew it was okay to give her a gentle push on the head. I put my palm on her big flat head, with a stiff arm sent her a few feet up above the sand bottom and well away from me and my fellow diver. Playful yet surprisingly docile, she closed her eyes – perhaps my touch sent a wave of disorientation.
This is the sharks’ home and kingdom. Coconut was Poseidon’s goddess, who kindly played and swam with me, not to forget that the tigers are the most powerful predators in the tropics under the sea. It was such a pleasure to meet her.