Every once in a while I get caught by images of certain aquatic wildlife. Those shots then will not let me go until I have taken my own images. It happened to me with the black manta's of the Socorros and it happened to me again with the great hammerheads of the Bahamas. It is something about the oddity of their appearance, but also about the way these sharks swim.. And so we went to the Bahamas in search of these majestic sharks to have our "Hammertime"-experience.
Bimini consists of two islands, the North and South island. We flew into the South island and stayed with Kevin and Kandy Benedict (who were also our welcoming hosts on the boat). Jillian Rutledge had put together the trip for me, Sandy and the Karbus family. It was a great trip with lots of interesting interactions with sharks, dolphins and stingrays. The hammerheads probably were the coolest thing we have seen up close.
Hammerheads are the biggest sharks (besides whalesharks) we have been freediving with so far, so we were a little bit tense before entering the water with them. I think it is healthy to be a bit apprehensive prior to diving with any shark or large animal, because it sharpens your senses. The more aware we are in the water with any animal the better we pay attention to the body language and general vibe of the interaction. Freediving with different shark species makes you understand and "read" the sharks better. Needless to say a shark is like any other wild animal very much wild. In the end there is always a risk involved. The conditions of diving with sharks are nowhere as perfect as in the Bahamas though with shallow dives and crystal clear waters.
We dove in just about 7 meters deep water not further away than 500 meters from South Bimini, which made for easy freediving. Mostly the hammerheads spent time on the bright sandy bottom. Only a few times the hammerheads were encountered in midwater which was kind of a thrilling experience as we could clearly see their big jaws. Not that there was reason to believe that they would mistake us for lunch, but still. It is a big mouth full of teeth..
The visibility and the white sandy bottom created perfect conditions for our photography, although the visibility did vary daily due to current and wind. While taking shots from below the sharks there was enough light reflected from the bottom. While taking pictures from above the characteristic bodies of the sharks contrasted nicely with the ribbed ocean floor. Pretty damn cool experience!
The hammerheads most of the time were outnumbered by nurse sharks. Nurse sharks were Sandy's best friends. They were docile, but cuddly. They were sharks, but not really sharky. At one point she ligned up nicely with four of her friends. Easy diving, easy composition, decent picture if you ask me. Sometimes photography is not that hard if you are patient.
In the Bahamas shark fishing and longlining has been forbidden (since 1990) and this island nation currently earns approximately 70 milion dollars a year with shark diving tourism. Seeing the sharks underwater also changes peoples perceptions about these sharks which might be an even bigger win than the initial financial gain.