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Shark Diving

Shark Diving

 

 

We offer a shark feed dive each week for our guests to observe the behaviors of these magnificent apex predators up close! We have a site in the Exumas and another in the Eleuthera area so no matter the itinerary, you will get to dive with the sharks! The Austin Smith is the site of our Exumas Shark Feed Dive and it’s perfect for divers to observe the frenzy of the feed from the edge of the wreck.

 

 

SHARKS

 

 

To those unfamiliar with the patterns and behaviors of sharks, it seems almost unfathomable that anyone would willingly put oneself close to them. This, however, is precisely what our passengers do every week. People have been diving with sharks in the Exumas since 1992 without any incidents. There are no records of scuba divers being bitten in the Bahamas other than those that tried to grab or touch a shark, were spearfishing, or were hand-feeding sharks. To keep our shark dive safe for both customers and crew, we lower a frozen chumsicle from the surface so that no humans get near the food. The primary sharks we have on our dives are Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks.

 

While humans are seldom at risk from shark attacks, sharks are under serious threat from humans. Shark populations have suffered large declines because of humans. The demand from Asia for shark fins traditionally used for making soup, has led to the slaughter of many sharks by fisherman. The fishermen remove the fins and discard the rest of the body. A typical shark takes 3-4 years to reach sexual maturity at which time she gives berth to 1-4 pups per year. Less than 25% of these pups reach sexual maturity. If something isn’t done soon to protect sharks, their decline may become irreversible. Shark feeding dives in the Bahamas have helped educate people about the threat sharks are facing. Several years ago, after long-line fishermen slaughtered over 50 sharks, the Bahamas passed laws prohibiting this practice. Recently the Bahamian government has moved to establish no fishing zones around many of the feeding sites.

 

Shark Identification

 

Historically, sharks left the area when scuba divers enter the water. The bubbles from the regulators scared them off. Since shark dives started in the Bahamas, many of the sharks have lost their fear of these bubbles. Has that made them more aggressive towards divers? No, but your chance of seeing a shark on a non-shark dive has increased greatly. Instead of diverting their course several hundred feet away from you, they now continue their planned course that frequently brings them close enough to be seen. This is a list of the sharks that have been seen on the trips of the Aqua Cat, Cat Ppalu and Blackbeard’s Cruises:

 

 

Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2 ½’, mature 5-6′, maximum 10′
Reproduction – 3-6 pups every after a one year gestation. A litter every 2 years. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Near bottom on outer reefs.
Diet – Fish, squid & octopus.
Identification:
• Dark grey or grey-brown on top fading to white underneath.
• First dorsal relatively small and begins at the rear of the pectoral fin.
• Dusky markings on tips of dorsal, lower lobe of tail, tips of ventral and anal fins and the insides tips of pectoral. Similar blacktip has white anal fins.
Comments – This is the most common shark at offshore feeding sites. It is also frequently seen on other offshore dive sites without incident. It rarely bites people. Most serious bites are to spearfisherman with fish where the bite is an attempt to get them to drop the fish. Common but is very susceptible to human fishing. Long liners can wipe out all the Caribbean reef sharks in an area in a single night. It is sometimes seen sleeping on the bottom.

 

 

Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

 

Order – Orectolobiformes
Family – Ginglymostomatidae
Size – Born 1′, mature 6¾’, maximum 10′ but there are some unverified reports to 14′
Reproduction – 20-30 pups after a 6 month gestation. A litter every other year. Viviparous (live bearing). Males mature at 10-15 years, females at 15-20 years. Juvenile nursery areas shallow grass beds and reefs.
Habitat – Shallow water to outer reefs.
Diet – Feeds on fish, stingrays, squid, lobster and sea urchins. It sucks them in quickly with its small mouth.
Identification:
• Yellow to grey-brown.
• Large 1st and 2nd rounded dorsal fins. 1st dorsal fin aft over ventral fin. Lemon sharks also have two large dorsal fins, but they are more widely spaced with the 1st dorsal fin starting at the aft edge of pectoral fin.
• Small mouth well in front of small eyes.
• Long barbels.
• Long caudal fin, over 25% of total length.
• Their caudal fin lacks a noticeable lower lobe.
Comments – They are frequently found sleeping on the bottom under ledges. More active at night. Tend to remain in one area. Mating takes place in June. Males will gather at a specific shallow spot. When females arrive, one of the males will bite her by the pectoral fin and attempt to drag her into deeper water to mate. She will fight his efforts until she finds a male she wished to mate with. It is a very docile shark which will allow close approach. This docile behavior causes many divers to think they are safe to grab, but when provoked they will frequently bite.

 

 

Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size-Born 2′, mature 7-12, maximum 24′
Reproduction-10-82 pups after 12 month gestation. A litter every other year. Born late spring. Only ovoviviparous (live berth but are nourished by an egg sack). Also uterine cannibalism. Fast growing, mature at 4-6 years.
Habitat-Near continental shelves. Move inshore at night to very shallow water. Normally offshore during the day but are seen in shallow water during the day.
Diet-Sharks, rays, turtles, seabirds, fish, marine iguanas, sea snakes, marine mammals, carrion & rubbish
Identification:
• Large to very large shark.
• Gray above with pale undersides.
• Vertical black to gray bars & spots.
• Blunt snout with wide mouth.
• Body tapers rapidly after forward dorsal fin. Very narrow in front of caudal fin.
• The caudal fin has a long upper lobe and short lower lobe.
Comments-They are seen on the reefs during the winter when the grouper are spawning. Also come into shallow water from late fall to early spring to feed on turtles. They are seen there at other times of the year, but not as frequently. They will eat almost anything with their most common food being turtles, sharks and seabirds. They have the reputation for being the garbage cans of the seas. They have been found with the following in their stomachs: license plates, grass, tiles, cardboard, ropes, shoes, barrels, tin cans, bottles and a birth control container.

 

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2 ½’, Mature 6-7, maximum 10¾’
Reproduction – 2-14 pups on alternate years. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Offshore
Diet – Fish, squid and pelagic crabs.
Identification:
• Large & slender
• Grey to grey-brown above, white below.
• First dorsal fin is rounded, starts behind pectoral fin.
• Low 2nd dorsal fin has long trailing edge.
• Long narrow pectoral fins.
• Long, flat pointed snout.
Comments – In the past we have seen young silkies at the sea buoys off Nassau, but these were moved recently. It is one of the 3 most common oceanic sharks, along with blue and oceanic whitetip.

 

Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)

 

Order – Orectolobiformes
Family – Rhincodontidae
Size – Born 2′, mature male over 20′, female over 26′, maximum 60′
Reproduction – Little is know of their nursery grounds, one female had 300 pups. Ovoviviparous (live berth but are nourished by an egg sack).
Habitat – Pelagic, but are seen near shore.
Diet – Plankton, baitfish, tuna, squid & pelagic crustaceans
Identification:
• Very large
• Pattern of yellow or white spots on grey, bluish or greenish brown back and white underside.
• Three ridges run along the sides and one at the top of the back.
• Broad flattened head.
Comments – We have seen them over both shallow and deep reefs, normally near surface, normally in the winter. One was seen in deep water feeding on tuna. It hung at the surface vertically with its mouth open and let the tuna accidentally jump in while they were feeding on bait fish. These gentle creatures don’t seem to mind divers approaching them.

 

 

Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 7 ½’, maximum 11′
Reproduction – 4 to 17 pups after a 12 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing). In the Bahamas they give berth in shallow protected bays surrounded by mangroves.
Habitat – They spend the first years of their life in very shallow water, gradually moving into deeper water as they grow. As adults they spend time on open sand flats and offshore reefs.
Diet – Fish, squid, octopuses, crustaceans & mollusks.
Identification:
• Yellowish-brown uppersides, white or yellowish-white undersides.
• Both dorsal fins approximately the same size and spaced further apart then a nurse shark.
• Upper lobe of caudal fin much longer then lower.
• Large anal fin.
Comments – We seen them in anchorages & harbors and while snorkeling mangrove creeks. Adults frequently are seen lying on the bottom during the day. A lot of research has and is currently being done at the Bimini Biological Field Station run by Dr Samuel Gruber.

 

Caribbean Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon porosus)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 1′, mature male 2′ female 2 ½’, maximum 3 ½’
Reproduction – 2-6 pups after 10-11 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing). Born in spring.
Habitat – Inhabit shallow coastal waters.
Diet – Small fish & invertebrates.
Identification:
• Olive-gray to brown with pale underside.
• Often have white spots on sides.
• Long, flattened snout.
• 2nd dorsal fin begins over middle of anal fin.
• Fairly large eyes.
Comments – Very wary. If you are lucky enough to see one, it is likely to be as it swims away rapidly. It is a common prey for larger sharks.

 

Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyma lewini)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Sphyrnidae
Size – Born 1 ½’, mature 5′ male, 7′ female, maximum 14′
Reproduction – 13-31 pups after 9-10 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Oceanic but sometimes cruise over walls, reefs and shallows.
Diet – Fish, sharks, rays & invertebrates.
Identification:
• Light gray above, white below.
• Front edge of hammer is slightly rounded and scalloped.
• High 1st dorsal fin, 2nd dorsal fin small.
• Rear edge of ventral fin straight (It is curved on similar great hammerhead).
• Dusky or black-tipped pectoral fins.
• Dark blotch on lower lobe of caudal fin.
Comments – These are seen rarely, usually off the walls.

 

 

Great Hammerhead (Sphyma mokarran)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Sphyrnidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 8′ male, 9′ female, maximum 20′
Reproduction – 6-42 pups after 11 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Oceanic but sometimes cruise over walls, reefs and shallows.
Diet – Varied prey, but prefer rays, groupers and sea catfishes.
Identification:
• Light gray above, white below.
• Front edge of hammer is slightly curved with a notch in the center of hammer.
• High & curved 1st dorsal fin.
• 2nd dorsal & pelvic fin larger then scalloped hammerhead.
• Rear edge of ventral fin curved.
Comments – These are seen rarely, usually off the walls.

 

Oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 6′, maximum 13′
Reproduction – 1-15 pups after 12 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Oceanic
Diet – Fish, squid, stingrays, sea birds, turtles, marine mammal carrion and garbage.
Identification:
• Gray or brownish above, yellowish below.
• Huge rounded 1st dorsal fin has a large white tip.
• Long paddle-like pectoral fins, usually with white tips.
Comments – This have only been seen accompanying pods of pilot whales. A very aggressive shark. They are known to bump people if encountered. Considered dangerous.

 

Blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 1 ½’, mature 3′, maximum 6′
Reproduction – 3-6 pups after 10-11 month gestation every 2nd year. Mature at 2 and may live to be 10. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Coastal over sand & reefs.
Diet – Small fishes.
Identification:
• Gray to yellowish brown above, pale yellowish or white below.
• 1st dorsal fin begins at the rear edge of the pectoral fin.
• The 2nd dorsal fin starts above the forward edge of the anal fin.
• The blackish tip of the snout fades with age.
• The 2nd dorsal fin & upper caudal fin have dark tips.
Comments – Large schools of adults gather in blue holes in late spring/early summer. We have had as many as 100 in the blue hole east of Nassau. They are preyed upon by larger sharks. During one dive the whole school flew out of the hole when a group of 4 reef sharks cruised by.

 

Blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 6′, maximum 8 ½’
Reproduction – 1-10 pups after 10-12 month gestation every 2 years. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Cruise reefs and shallows. In the Bahamas they are known to gather in schools off the walls as deep as 200′.
Diet – Fish, squid & crustaceans.
Identification:
• Gray above to blue gray above fading to white below.
• A silver-white streak on flank.
• The forward edge of the 1st dorsal fin is forward of the aft edge of the pectoral fin.
• The pectoral fins, 2nd dorsal fin and lower lobe of caudal fin have black tips.
• The anal fins are pale (similar reef shark has black tips).
Comments – These sharks are rarely seen.

 

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 5 ½’ to 7 ½’, maximum 11′
Reproduction – 1-13 pups after 10-11 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing). Mature at 15-20 years.
Habitat – Usually close inshore, between islands, around docks and in surf. Are known to move offshore in summer to follow schools of tuna.
Diet – A broad range of food including fish, turtles, birds, dolphins, land mammals, small sharks, rays and invertebrates.
Identification:
• Gray to brown with pale underside.
• Heavy thick-headed shark.
• Forward edge of 1st dorsal fin above the middle of the pectoral fins.
• Short snout with small eyes.
• Small 2nd dorsal starts in front of the forward edge of the anal fin.
Comments – It’s proximity to human activities and aggressive behavior makes this a dangerous shark. We have rarely seen them.

 

Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

 

Order – Carcharhiniformes
Family – Carcharhinidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 4 ½’ to 6′, maximum 8′
Reproduction – 1-14 pups (average 9) after an 8-12 month gestation every 2nd or 3rd year. One of the slowest growing and latest maturing sharks. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat – Inhabit shallow water during the summer, moving offshore in the winter.
Diet – Small bottom fishes and some crustaceans & mollusks.
Identification:
• Blue gray to brownish gray with white underside.
• Large pointed 1st dorsal fin. Twice as long as length of snout.
• Ridge on back between dorsal fins.
• 1st dorsal fin starts over the middle of the pectoral fin.
• Broad flattened head.
• The rounded blunt snout is shorter then with of mouth.
Comments – This shark is rarely seen in the Bahamas.

 

Shortfin Mako (Isurus oxyinchus)

 

Order – Lamniformes
Family – Lamnidae
Size – Born 2′, mature 7′ male, 9′ female, maximum 14′
Reproduction – 4-25 pups. Ovoviviparous (live berth but are nourished by unfertilized eggs).
Habitat – Coastal & oceanic.
Diet – Fish & squid and small whales & dolphins.
Identification:
• Blue or purple above, white below.
• Slender conical snout.
• Large 1st dorsal fin begins at aft edge of pectoral fin.
• Lobes of tail nearly equal in size.
Comments – The only one seen on our cruises was witnessed well offshore eating a swordfish.

 

RAYS

 

Sharks and rays are closely related. Both are in the class Chondrichthyes, subclass Elasmobranchii. They are cartilaginous with upper and lower jaws. They also have multiple paired gill openings.

 

 

Southern stingray (Dasyatis americana)

 

Order – Rajiformes
Family – Dasyatidae
Size – Born 8″, mature 3′ to 4′, maximum 5 ½’
Reproduction – 3 to 5 young.
Habitat – Sandy areas.
Diet – Invertebrates and small fishes.
Identification:
• Color varies depending upon surroundings from brown to gray to black.
• Snout & wing tips pointed.
• Venomous spine at the base of the tail.
• The long whip-like tail tapers to a point.
Comments – Seen frequently buried in the sand. Stepping on the poisonous spine can be extremely painful.

 

Yellow stingray (Urolophus jamaicensis)

 

Order – Rajiformes
Family – Urolophidae
Size – Mature 8″ to 12″, maximum 15″
Reproduction – 2 to 4 live young.
Habitat – Sandy areas. Frequently covered with sand.
Identification:
• Yellowish brown with numerous pale and dark spots and blotches.
• Short tail.
• Snout & wings rounded.
• Poisonous spine near the end of the tail.
Comments – Seen frequently.

 

Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus Narinari)

 

Order – Rajiformes
Family – Myliobatidae
Size – Born 7″ to 14″, mature 4′ to 6 ½’, maximum 8′.
Reproduction – 4 young per litter are born live.
Habitat – Seen cruising in sandy areas and along walls.
Diet – Mollusks, which it scoops out of the sand.
Identification:
• Gray, brown or greenish with numerous white spots on it’s back.
• The head protrudes with a duck bill snout.
• Pointed wings.
• Long, thin tail with 1 to 5 poisonous spines at its base.
Comments – These beautiful creatures are frequently seen cruising off the walls.

 

Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris)

 

Family – Mobulidae
Size – Born 4′, mature 6′ to 14′, maximum 22′
Reproduction – Born live.
Habitat – Oceanic
Diet – Plankton.
Identification:
• Brown to greenish-brown to black on top with white patches. White underneath.
• Pointed wings.
• Large mouth at leading edge of head.
Comments – During the summer they are sometimes seen in shallow water, often off beaches.

 

 

Caribbean torpedo (Torpedo sp.)

 

Order – Rajiformes
Family – Torpedinidae
Size – Mature 1′ to 2′
Habitat – Shallow reefs.
Identification:
• Tan with light brown blotches.
• 1st dorsal fin is large and much larger than 2nd.
• Caudal fin is triangular with rounder read edge.
• Front edge of body is squared and scalloped.
Comments – This is a very rare ray with only a few reports of it in the Caribbean. This picture was shot on a deep reef in the Exumas.

 

Smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata)

 

Order – Rajiformes
Family – Pristidae
Size – Mature 6′-12′, maximum 18′
Reproduction – Live berth. The saw is encased in a sheath to protect the mother.
Habitat – Normally shallow bays but are seen at times on the walls.
Identification:
• A long saw. ¼ the length of the body.
• 1st dorsal fin is entirely above pelvic fins.
• Caudal fin has no distinct lower lobe.
Comments – We have had 3 sightings on walls and one on the bank. Two were at the same time on different walls.