Fun fact: sitting on the ocean floor carrying 35 pounds of extra weight, a small piece of PVC pipe, and staring at a 6 foot long shark isn’t as strange as you might expect.
Sounds crazy right? It definitely might qualify me as crazy, but I did it! In the spring of 2017 my family and I experienced the Hammerhead Shark Dive in Bimini, the Bahamas. As you might expect, this dive was and adventure unlike any other in my logbook.
How Swimming With Sharks Works
All divers are manned with their wetsuits, scuba gear, and a short, 2-3 foot plastic PVC pipe. It’s a shallow scuba dive of only about 20-30 feet but you’re heavily weighted so you can rest on the ocean floor and observe without worrying about drifting around. We created a semi-circle around a brave soul the crew called the “baiter”. The baiter is a trained staff member (and something of an underwater acrobat) who wafts the dead fish smells and tastes from the bait box to attract and maintain the attention of the hammerhead sharks.
And boy, does it work. They quickly appear, at times up to 5 sharks within view. The sharks circle around the baiter to snag a fish snack. The hammerhead sharks appear from all directions, sometimes even from above and behind. Those are the spookiest moments. I found myself constantly scanning the ocean around me just to be safe.
Why The Hell Did You Have a PVC Pipe?
The hammerhead shark is unique in that its vision is restricted due to the placement of its eyes. This is the reason we’d been given the pipes. These ocean creatures are not bloodthirsty for humans- they’re just a tad clumsy! If a shark got a bit too close, all a scuba diver had to do was bop it gently on the nose with the pipe and the shark would quickly redirect its course. Apparently, the sharks assume that they have run into a rock or reef rather than a human with a PVC pipe! I’ll admit, prior to getting into the water I was a bit reluctant about the effectiveness of the pipes, but they worked!
My Experience with the Hammerhead Sharks
Once our dive group was settled on the ocean floor, the sharks showed up fairly quickly. I had to consciously remember to control my breathing- it’s not everyday you’re surrounded by sharks without boundaries! But I wanted to stay down as long as I could to experience the beauty of these creatures up close!
The sharks ranged in size from about 4 to 7 feet! It was incredible to see how their gills functioned and the delicate ripples of their dorsal fins. They are truly so much more graceful and agile than I realized- even after many years of Shark Week viewing! They were appreciative of the free snack, and I was appreciative they didn’t think I was the snack by mistake. They truly paid us no attention. We simply acted as quiet onlookers.
Back on the boat between dives, we were able to learn more about the hammerheads from the two scientific researchers who were on board. They had been tracking several of the sharks for months for their study. The scientists taught us that hammerhead sharks, despite their intimidating appearance, think human blood is pretty gross. One said that our blood would be the equivalent of trashy fast food. I was both offended and relieved.
Would I Recommend Scuba Diving With Sharks?
Absolutely! It was one of the most exciting and exhilarating learning experiences I’ve had, especially in a scuba diving setting! I loved sharks and ocean life prior to these dives, but found a new appreciation and understanding after my time swimming with the sharks up close.
I would suggest having a few dives under your belt before jumping into something of this nature, however. To get the most out of your experience you want to take full advantage of your time with the hammerhead sharks and minimize any potential risk. Make sure you are very comfortable scuba diving, are well-versed in safety procedures, and skilled at keeping a level head in order to ration air. And as always, ensure you are a respectful visitor to the ocean and its inhabitants- always treat the marine life with care.
My family booked our dive through The Bimini Scuba Center. I had a great experience with them. We received two 40 minute (ish) dives and the boat was manned by a skilled crew, scientists, and baiters. I never felt unsafe and the crew communicated rules and procedures well prior to the dives.
Scuba Certification: SSI certified at Big Blue Diving in Koh Tao, Thailand (post on this coming soon!)
Where we stayed in Bimini: Hilton at Resorts World Bimini