Trip Report – Bimini, Bahamas – January 2015

Posted by admin in Shark Trips, Underwater Photography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The tiny island of Bimini in the Bahamas has exploded onto the shark diving scene in recent years when word of the big great hammerhead sharks got out. The 2 small islands (North and South Bimini) have been attracting big names for decades due to both it’s sheer beauty and close proximity to the USA. As you walk around the island you will see monuments to Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King Jr who both famously visited Bimini regularly.

Today, Bimini is an adventure divers dream! It is easily the best known place on Earth to encounter large great hammerhead sharks. Our group of divers and photographers joined shark diving operators Epic Diving to spend five days on Bimini and found there is a lot more to these tiny islands than we thought. Here is a very brief day-by-day of our adventure.

Day 1- Blowout

It is winter in the Bahamas and cold fronts are difficult to avoid. Our first day saw huge winds and that meant no hammerheads for us. Bull sharks are a pretty damn great second choice though! We were staying at the Bimini Big Game Club which is home to large bull sharks in the winter. As many as a dozen are swimming beneath the marina docks at any given time. It proved very fruitful photographically to simply stick our cameras in the water when they were coming close.

 

Two Bull Sharks in Bimini

Bull Sharks of the Big Game Club

Day 2 – Blowout Redux

Yes, the weather was still not cooperating. Spirit was still high among the group and no visit to Bimini is complete without a visit to the world famous Bimini Biological Field Station, AKA Sharklab. We got to hear all about our precious hammerheads and, my favourite photo subjects baby lemon sharks. A big thanks to the wonderful folks at Sharklab for the tour.

 

Sharklab baby lemon shark

Zach Parker of the Sharklab tells us about a baby lemon shark

Day 3 – Hammertime

The winds died down just enough to get out on the water. We had to go to a little deeper (about 35 feet vs. the usual 20 feet) to find better visibility in the chop, but we got sharks! And how magnificent they are. This isn’t the first time I’ve dove with them, but I had forgotten just how big they are. So impressive!

 

Diver with hammerhead shark.

Anita interacting with her first great hammerhead shark.

Day 4 – Predator and Prey

The great hammerheads favourite prey are stingrays so we decided to split our day among both the sharks and the stingrays. The north end of Gun Cay is home to friendly southern stingrays. According to lore it used to be a calm place for fisherman to clean their catch and the stingrays got accustom to getting food from people. Now they will swim straight to you and even suck on your wetsuit or dome port. They are a lot of fun to be in the water with!

 

Southern Stingray

Snorkelling with Bimini’s Stingrays

Diver and Great Hammerhead Shark

Mark watching a great hammerhead

Day 5 – Bimini’s Famous

The final day brought flat calm seas. Finally! So, we set off to the north to swim with Bimini’s most famous residents, the friendly spotted dolphins. Within minutes of reaching the area we spotted some spotted dolphins and began driving the boat in circles to peak their interest. We then hopped off the duck board of the Thresher (Epic Diving’s epic boat) to swim with them. On the first jump my fin came off, but I recovered and a mother and calf took interest in us.

On the second jump my mask popped off, but I recovered and had one of those unforgettable encounters you always hear about. A dozen spotted dolphins swam right up to us and stayed with us. I am a huge supporter of the “look, but don’t touch” mentality when encountering wildlife, but on this rare occasion the dolphins chose to touch us. One in particular swam to me and pressed his or her body against my camera lens. I reached my hand out to gently push her away and she stopped swimming and leaned into my hand. I am not a “dolphin whisperer”, but I believe she wanted that contact.

Snorkelling with Spotted Dolphin

Debbie and Carrie interacting with a Spotted Dolphin

On that massive high we spent the afternoon diving with and saying goodbye to the great hammerheads.

Great Hammerhead Shark over the Sand

I need to extend a huge thank you to Vinnie and Debbie of Epic Diving for making this an unforgettable experience. Thank you to all the people who joined us for making both the in-water time and out-of-water time a real pleasure and keeping a positive attitude during those tough weather days. Thank you to the Sharklab and Grant, Sean and Katie for making this site what it is and helping us to make our experience as good as it was.

Sharing the ocean with great people like this makes the experience more than just a dive trip. Thank you!

Sharing the ocean with great people like this makes the experience more than just a dive trip. Thank you! Image by Andrew Sallmon.

One more note: if you are thinking of going to Bimini to see their wonderful animals please keep in mind that using a local operator and staying at the local hotels and eating local food will spread the message that these natural resources bring in tourism dollars – a major economic reason to keep the animals and their habitats protected.

© Shane Gross - hammerhead shark

Behind The Shot – Hungry Shrimp

Posted by admin in Underwater Photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I have spilled the beans to Dive Photo Guide about how I achieved my winning shot of the hungry shrimp. Click here to check it out.

Cave Shrimp feeding on Crab

Goodbye Print – Whale of a Tail Image

Posted by admin in Shane Gross, Underwater Photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I can think of few things that make me feel more humble, grateful and just plain awesome than when someone reaches out to me asking for one of my images to hang on their wall. That means someone really, truly likes my image. So I just wanted to say thank you to those who have reached out and purchased one of my prints. Thank you so much!

Fine Art Whale Tail Print

 

Whale tail photographic print

Trip Report – Tiger Beach – October, 2014

Posted by admin in Ocean Story, Shark Trips, Underwater Photography | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted by admin in Shark Tales | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“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.