Sharkexpedition at the Bahamas

Author: 
Karin Brussaard
Photographer: 
Karin Brussaard
Sharkexpedition at the Bahamas

Spring 2006, I’m sitting behind my desk as I’m surfing the internet. A review about a shark expedition in the Bahamas is drawing my attention. The pictures that accompany the article are very impressive. I have always dreamt about photographing sharks and that is what this trip is about! My enthusiasm is taking control over me and ten minutes later I have booked the trip at the internetsite of Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures (www.scuba-adventures.com). That night I lie awake….what have I done? What will my impulsive act bring? I wonder what species of sharks I’ll meet and whether the trip will be safe. I spend the rest of the week searching the internet for information. The main target of the expedition is spotting tiger sharks and great hammerhead sharks. I Google the first species, the tiger sharks and I find myself reading the following recommendation; “Never dive with tiger sharks without the protection of a cage”. There are no cages on this trip.

One year later I’m at the airport for my flight from Amsterdam to West Palm Beach with all my dive- and photographygear. The problems with a trip like this always starts when I check in. My divegear and clothes weights 40 kg and are checked in. So far no problems! In my carry on is my photography equipment. On this trip I use the Nikon D80 in an Sea&Sea underwaterhousing with two Sea&Sea YS110 strobes. For this part of my equipment I use a trolly and a big bag and it weights about 20kg. It is way too heavy and every trip I have to explain what is in my bags and why it is so heavy. This time I am lucky and I don’t have to pay overweight.

I’m heading for The Bahamas on the vessel called M/V Shearwater. The eight days long expedition has started and I must admit that the word expedition is rightly chosen. The vessel is very small and it took al lot of effort to get everyone with their luggage, dive gear and camerastuff on board. Because of the size of the vessel and its shallowness in the water, one feels every movement of the sea. The weather is bad and we face an impetuous nightly crossing. As I stand on the rear deck staring the horizon I feel sick. On top of that I am pretty nervous for what the next week will bring. Was it wise of me to book this trip? May be I’m just a bit tense because of a challenging week I’m about to experience.

Safety
After dealing with the formalities at the customs in West End Jim Abernathy, owner of Abernathy’s Scuba Adventures (JASA), provides us with a thorough briefing. Jim informs us how to act as a group in the presence of sharks. Safety first is his statement and anyone ignoring the safety rules will receive a warning. A second warning will mean immediate and absolute exclusion from the trip. Our diving gear and its details are not allowed to be finished in bright colors. And we are obliged to wear gloves because white hands can be mistaken for fish by sharks. A shark could “accidentally”bite a diver. We are instructed to slide cautiously into the water and immediate descend to the bottom of the sea. Leaving the water should also be done quickly as the greatest danger for the diver is on the surface. Tiger sharks often attack their prey, for example turtles when breathing for air, on the surface. As a result of that snorkeling is not an option this trip.

According to Abernathy the present sharks in these waters are not dangerous to humans. There is one exception and that’s the tiger shark. Whenever a tiger shark is near it’s very important that the divers work together as a team. Divers should point the shark to each other so every diver can turn towards the direction of the predator. Tiger sharks will approach anything they’ll meet and everything of their interest will be investigated with their nose. When the shark experiences that the object is not edible it will continue its way. A safety precaution is therefore to hold an object between yourself and the shark. Jim Abernathy provides everyone with a PVC tube from about one meters length. The divers are obliged to hold the tube vertically in front of them. Photographers can, of course, use their camera to protect themselves from curious Tiger sharks. Finally we receive one very important instruction: never look longer than 5 seconds through the viewfinder of your camera and immediately search the area in a 360 degree angle to be absolutely sure no Tiger shark is surprising you.



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