Sharks in the Bahamas

From Terrifying to Fascinating
By Mike Porath
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A mile out on the clear Caribbean Sea that's just a few shades heavier than the bright blue sky, the boat drops anchor and I suddenly feel it weighing in my stomach. Now or never. Peering over the side, my focus leaves Cove's final instructions and rests solely on the crescent shadows circling the chum. Though somehow his last words ring clear:"We are in their world. If these sharks really want to bite you and eat you, there's nothing you can do about it. I just wanted to give you that thought of confidence." Thanks a bunch.

The Do's and Don'ts

One step into the sea and the worst is over. Beneath the surface, sounds become muted, the heart slows, and sharks turn from terrifying to fascinating. Cruising to the sandy bottom of the ocean floor 40 feet below, 20 Caribbean reef sharks, between five and 10 feet in length and weighing up to 700 pounds, begin to gather around the bait box. Supper time.

On the boat, Cove had explained that divers were not to grab the sharks' fins, but the spectacular sight is too intriguing not to at least let fingertips wander as the graceful creatures glide by, the rough rubber of their sides working just the smallest bit of friction against the hand.

Cove was right — the sharks pay little attention to the divers kneeling on the sandy floor as they circle the bait box, biding their time before we serve out a tuna shish kabob. And suddenly with one sleek surge and one snap of the jaws, it's gone. Their yellow snapper tail sidekicks are left feasting on the scraps. We stab into the bait box for more — it's a feeding frenzy.

Tales of Terror?

After 20 minutes of this the box is empty and the sharks drift off one by one. Cove waves us over for a short swim to the "Tongue of the Ocean," an oceanic trench that plummets 6,000 feet down. Straight down, from the looks of it: sea blue deepening into black in a matter of feet. I've never given the ocean or its tantalizing creatures this much thought.

Film and photos have captured our incredible dive, but it ends too quickly and we're soon fluttering our flippers to the surface. Back on the boat, adrenaline is still pumping and divers trade words like "amazing" and "awesome." We know we're not doing this surreal experience justice, but we also know the intense memory will last a lifetime. And surely, our stories of the dive will involve more danger each time they're told.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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