Trip Report – Tiger Beach – October, 2014

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Tiger Beach in the northern Bahamas has been a bucket list destination for divers and underwater photographers for well over a decade now. I wasn’t really avoiding it, but I thought of it like “everyone and their grandmother have done it and shot it from every angle, what could I possibly add”?

While I don’t think I added anything substantially different, I am really, really glad I went. It truly is a special place. While the shark encounters are ridiculously reliable, it is still wild. You are far away from land and these are still big tiger sharks.

Tiger Shark

I went with Epic Diving, one of the only operators that runs day trips as opposed to live-aboards. Each of the five days on the water we had Caribbean reef sharks before the boat was even anchored, lemon sharks within 5 minutes and tiger sharks within 20 minutes. That is amazing no matter how you look at it!

 

Lemon shark getting teeth cleaned.

A lemon shark gets her teeth cleaned by a cleaner wrasse in what is a symbiotic relationship.

Then we did a couple of two hour dives with a great, home-made, lunch in between and then went back to our beautiful, air-conditioned, condos on Grand Bahama. I am used to roughing it on trips like this so it felt a little weird, but fully welcome!

Diver with Tiger Shark

In the water it was peaceful and energizing at the same time. All the talking stops and it’s time to admire the big girls. Yes, all the tigers we encountered were female and some looked pregnant. Despite this, they were very well behaved and all the guests commented how they never felt scared or threatened by the sharks.

Friendly nurse shark

A nurse shark swam up and laid down in sand beside us. I am usually telling people to be completely hands-off, but this little guy didn’t seem to mind a gentle touch.

Owners Vinnie and Debbie Canabal are shark lovers just like the rest of us and they couldn’t wait to get in the water every dive. They have learned from others running trips out to the area, but have also innovated a few of their own things. For example, it makes head-slapping sense to use a white crate to keep the chum in rather than a black one because all the divers are told to wear black wetsuits and gloves. Duh! They also use far less chum than what they were told they needed. The sharks still show up with literally 1/20th the amount of chum they were instructed to bring when they first started. We felt like we were in good hands (Vinnie is also an ER doctor). They cared about our safety and about what is best for the sharks.

Hand feeding a tiger shark

It’s fairly easy to get up-close pictures of the tiger sharks (something that was extremely difficult 15 years ago), but it was not easy finding new ways to shoot them. It didn’t matter. I got a lot of “me too” shots, a few shots I really like and made some wonderful memories with wonderful people. Our group had such a good time we are already planning our next adventure together. If you would like to join us keep your eye on my trips page. I hope to see you out there in the blue!

Tiger Shark in Black and White

Caribbean Reef Sharks

Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark Encounter

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“There he is! Oh, he’s biiiiiiig” I heard our captain say. A large shark was coming towards the boat. He (we found out later he was indeed a “he”) most certainly was, but we weren’t sure what kind of shark he was. What’s the best way to find out? Send your father in the water with a mask of course!

He got in, video camera set, and waited. The shark was on the outside of the circle pattern we got used to seeing. Finally we saw the light green figure swim towards my dad. He was getting pretty close, then really close! All I could think was that “I should be in there too, he must be getting great footage”.

After that my dad picked his head up and made the signal for “tiger shark”. I made a sound an excited little girl would make and suited up. You may be asking why I was so excited, after all anyone can go dive with tiger shark year round at tiger beach. Well, tiger sharks are simply cool, it doesn’t matter, OK! Also, this was the first tiger we had seen in this area and it was in crystal clear, blue water about 1000 feet deep. I knew the images would be different from all the images that come out of tiger beach.

All right, so I slid into the water and awaited my first glimpse. At first I just saw the tail. A few minutes pass and I worry that I missed the show. Then, there he was! coming straight in to one of our hang baits. I slide under the water to snap a couple pictures. He lets me nice and close. What a beauty!

A male tiger shark with a man in deep, blue water

A male tiger shark with a man in deep, blue water.

He then swims up to our bait and grabs on, getting just what he came for. And then he was gone. We waited for him to come back, but that was it. It was so short an encounter, but left me thinking about it a lot! So beautiful! Check out my Trips page if you want to join me to dive with tiger sharks this fall at tiger beach. I have a feeling it is going to be one of those life-changing trips.

New Photography Page

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Just in case you didn’t already know – I have started a facebook page specifically for my photography. I resisted for a while, but I think it is time. I will try to add a new image daily and keep it interesting for you all. If you see an image you would like as a print, please email me and we’ll work it out.

 

Here is the page https://www.facebook.com/shanegrossphotography 

Cheers!

Shane

Gina’s Story – The Manatee Explorer

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For the last six weeks or so I have been captivated by a manatee named Gina. She showed up under a dock on my home Island on January 27, 2014. She is a Florida manatee that moved to the Bahamas in 1999 and spent 14 years in the Berry Islands. To everyone’s surprise she moved to Harbour Island. Scientists came and put a tracking tag on her a couple of weeks later. It has been very interesting to see her off-shore explorations ¬†and how she returns to our harbour. For more on the story of Gina and to see some of the satellite tracking data make sure to visit the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organizations website.

Gina the Manatee

Gina the manatee being tagged in the Bahamas.

National Geographic 2013 Photo Contest

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Usually when you enter a photography competition you have no idea how well you placed unless you win. When I entered and didn’t place in the National Geographic 2013 Photo Contest I had no idea if any of my images made it past the first round. So, I was very interested in this video which gives us a small glimpse into their judging process. By sheer luck I see they are discussing my whale tail photo. It sounds as if, maybe, just maybe, it was close to being in the top five. Either way, I wish we got to see into the judging process like this more often. Here is the video, followed by the image itself:

 

Sperm Whale Tail

As if to say goodbye, the last sperm whale of the expedition descends into the depths.