Bahamas Sharks and Dolphins, May 2009

beautiful Bahamian sunset
I have been going to the Bahamas to photograph sharks for eight years. Last week marked my 10th trip aboard the M/V Shear Water with Jim Abernethy. This time, I was part of a private charter for my good friend, Lucien, who was there on the very first dive I made with an underwater camera back in 2001. Lucien, Richard and Jacques joined me, Jim and crew members Don, Mike and Ed for eight days of cruising in the Bahamas for with tiger sharks, lemon sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, Atlantic spotted dolphins, and more. The weather forecasts were good: light winds with afternoon showers every day.

Unfortunately, weather forecasts seem to be wrong most of the time, and the first three days ended up being rough and windy. You might as well ignore forecasts.

I convinced Jim to bring the flying boat on this trip, and on the first day, Jacques went up in it (with Jim) and had the time of his life! Unfortunately, the seas were rough and caused some problems, which ended up shelving the boat for the rest of the trip.

Jim and Jacques take off in the flying boat

I was disappointed because I wanted shots of Tiger Beach from above -- I was imagining an aerial shot of 10 tiger sharks and 50 lemon sharks clustered around the Shear Water! It didn't matter -- it wouldn't have happened on this trip because there were only half a dozen lemon sharks at Tiger Beach. It was totally bizarre, and unprecedented. We did, however, have a very-pregnant Emma come straight in (without warning -- I'm sure it scared the crap out of our first-timer guests), and ended up seeing probably 6-7 individual tiger sharks over the course of two days at Tiger Beach.

Emma, so pregnant that her belly drags on the sand

We spent one thoroughly-enjoyable afternoon snorkeling with a large pod of over 20 Atlantic spotted dolphins. Two juveniles in particular were quite playful, zooming around in spirals and following us repeatedly as we dove down to the bottom. We lost the pod at dusk as they moved into deeper water, so we shut off the engines, turned on the lights, and drifted in the Gulf Stream. After a couple of hours, about eight dolphins showed up, actively hunting the schools of squid that had floated up from the deep, attracted to our lights. Although the surface was calm, a wind had started blowing, which made it hard to stay near the boat while we were in the water. Still, the dolphins were a lot of fun to watch; I am always incredibly impressed at how fast they move when they are hunting.

Playful dolphins!

We also dove reefs for a couple of days, enjoying the lush gorgonian forests while watching Caribbean reef sharks and various species of grouper and jack swim around. I particularly enjoyed a patch of hundreds of yellow-headed jawfish in the sand by a dive site Jim calls "Hammertime".

My favorite: lemon snaps!

Overall, this was one of the most relaxing JASA trips I've ever been on. Because none of the guests were photographers, we settled into a slow rhythm. Lucien did up to three dives a day, but Richard and Jacques averaged two. I ended up diving only 1-2 dives a day, spending the rest of the time reading and napping: true luxury!

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