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Scuba Diving in Grand Bahama Island, Caribbean
Dive Site: Shark Alley
Location: Grand Bahama Island, the Bahamas
Description: Shark Diving - Caribbean reef sharks
Length: 130 metres (427 feet) long, wide open entry and exit locations
Depth: 13 metres (43 feet)
Visibility: 50 metres (164 feet)
An encounter with a shark is an unforgettable experience for divers. Their timidity can be a problem, especially for photographers, who usually can't get close enough to get a good look. At Shark Alley there are 10 – 25 Caribbean reef sharks with which you can swim.
The adventure begins with a detailed briefing at the dock, during which the shark feeder runs through the various phases of the dive. The journey to Shark Alley only takes 30 - 40 minutes. The fish used to bait the sharks are stowed in a special container at the dock. The shark feeder wears a stainless steel mesh suit to facilitate his control over the sharks. There is also a safety diver and a video / camera diver present. The safety diver accompanies the group to the area, where there is an inoperative decompression chamber in front of which the divers kneel in a semicircle.
You will see the sharks circling even before you reach the arena. Some come within a few metres of the group and swim calmly among the divers.
The sharks are varying in length from 4 to 9 feet. Groupers will start to arrive from all directions, stingrays settle in the sand, and the water is alive with yellowtails. As if obeying a command, all the creatures will suddenly start to swim in the same direction, toward the shark feeder with the bate container. Weighed down by the metal suit and with fins off, he moves along the sand to the sandy clearing, followed by a horde of sharks.
Just a few feet from the divers, the first fish is offered to the sharks which become animated, swimming in ever tighter circles around the shark feeder. Their movements are calm and controlled, though they are not tense. You have to watch carefully to see the shark raise its nose, thrust its jaw forward, and close the nictitating membrane over its eyes - it all happens in a few seconds. The feeder places a hand on the snout of a nine-foot shark and rubs it. The shark's eyes appear to roll, and the creature becomes docile, as in a trance. Then he carries it over for each of us to touch, holding the head far away. We have been warned not to touch any shark, with the exception of this one moment. My reluctance to participate in this artificial encounter yields to my curiosity and I pass my hand over the shark's midriff and its dark tipped tail. The pale grey skin is rough and leathery, the tail thick. The trance experience, which biologists don't completely understand, is thought to occur when the tiny metallic chain links in the feeder's suit run over the shark's electromagnetic sensors in its snout which is used to detect prey.
The shark feeder will do his best to ensure that you get a good look and the cameraman will videotape the whole dive for you as a souvenir. After about 20 minutes, more sharks arrive, moving so quickly that they are difficult to count. The feeder then draws the group of sharks out of the area with the last of the bait.
These encounters are more significant than you might think. One hundred million sharks are exterminated as predators and enemies to humans each year. The experiences people have at Shark Alley or at similar exhibitions may help and mankind’s unreasonable fear of sharks and save these precious creatures from extinction.
Chris Gjersvik, Instructor
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