You may have heard that The Bahamas is the shark capital of the world, and if you thought that this was just some marketing slogan, then think again! In 2011, the archipelago established itself as one of only four ‘shark sanctuaries’ in the world, which means that all sharks in The Bahamas are now protected by law.

Over the years, this protection has allowed marine life to thrive and has caused a dramatic impact on the overall number of sharks in the Bahamas. As a result, the waters surrounding the archipelago have developed many incredible dive sites including; Bimini, Cat Island and Tiger Beach. The Bahamas has become the most reliable and consistent place to photograph and swim with sharks on earth.

Although dolphins, groupers and a myriad of schooling fish can readily be seen, the undoubted attraction for photographers and divers are the charismatic sharks of the Bahamas. Here are the iconic shark species you could look forward to sharing the water with in The Bahamas:

Tiger Shark

Tiger Sharks are arguably the biggest attraction for shark enthusiasts visiting The Bahamas and their is arguably nowhere in the world better diving with them. Sightings are so common and so special that their has even been a beach named after them – Tiger Beach.

The name ‘tiger shark’ is derived from the dark, vertical stripes found on the sides of juvenile individuals. Which slowly start to fade as they grow older and eventually almost disappear altogether.

The largest predatory fish in tropical seas, adults can reach lengths of 5.5 metres (18 ft) and tip the scales at over 900 kilograms (2000 lbs). Their image is characterised by a large, blunt nose and a thick, girthy body. Their sheer size means that tiger sharks move with incredible confidence and carry an intimidating presence about them as they slowly cruise the shallow waters.

The Sharks Of The Bahamas
Tiger Shark

This combined with their reputation as man-eaters means that tiger sharks should always be treated with caution and respect. It is said that they are responsible for the second-most attacks on humans, after Great White Sharks.

Tiger sharks are the apex predators in The Bahamas and are famous for their tendency to eat – or try to eat – almost anything that comes across their path. This often includes fish, birds, dolphins, sea turtles, rays and even other sharks. They have also been found with many human-waste items in their stomachs, including metal, plastic objects and burlap sacks.

The best time of year to dive with tiger sharks at Tiger Beach is October through January. Through satellite tagging, scientists have determined consistent migration patterns among the tiger shark population in The Bahamas. Results have shown that in the spring and summer months, the sharks migrate out into the open Atlantic Ocean to mate and follow the loggerhead turtle migration. The sharks then move back into The Bahamas during gestation and birthing. Because of this, most of the tiger sharks found at Tiger Beach are females and many of them, heavily pregnant.

READ NEXT: GET TO KNOW THE TIGER SHARK

Caribbean Reef Shark

Caribbean Reef Sharks are the most commonly found species in Bahamian waters.

Much smaller than their striped counterparts, these requiem sharks grow to around 2-2.5 metres ( 6.5-8 ft) long and are characterised by dusky-coloured fins with little-to-no markings on their overall dark-grey colouration, and white underbelly. They have a short, rounded and broad snout with large eyes.

Caribbean reef sharks are streamlined and solidly-built and often mistaken for other species within its family such as the black tip reef shark. However with a closer look, you’ll notice an extra rear tip on the second dorsal fin. The first dorsal fin is slightly angled or curved and the gills slits are also longer than most other varieties of sharks.

The Sharks Of The Bahamas
Caribbean Reef Shark

They primarily feed on fish and large marine invertebrates like rays and large crabs, using its highly tuned senses and sensitivity to electric vibration. Prey is clutched in the corner of the shark’s mouth with a swift lateral snap of its jaws.

Although they thrive in waters around The Bahamas, years of overfishing has had a devastating impact on their global population numbers, and they are currently classified as ‘nearly threatened’ on the IUCN Red list. Sharks are fished for meat, leather products, liver oil, and fishmeal. Shark liver oil is a popular ingredient in modern cosmetic products.

The Caribbean reef shark is found in the tropical waters of the western Atlantic and Caribbean, from Florida and the Bahamas down to to Brazil. The sharks are known to be quite shy and generally don’t bother divers, however do occasionally come in for a closer look, especially around feeding activity. The best place to dive with Caribbean reef sharks in The Bahamas is at Tiger Beach and the areas surrounding.

Great Hammerhead Shark

Great hammerhead sharks are large, apex predators, found in coastal waters around the world. Unlike smaller hammerhead shark species, they are live solitary lives and follow long migratory routes, sometimes in excess of 1,200 kilometres (750 miles).

Their iconic hammer-shaped heads are equipped with highly-sensitive electrical receptors that allow them to sense potential prey, even when hidden under sand. The Great hammerhead’s diet is primarily made up of marine animals that live along the seafloor, such as stingrays, cephalopods (octopus and squid), crustaceans and smaller shark species.

Great Hammerhead Shark

They have been observed pinning their prey items down with the sides of their heads, while tearing them apart with their long, serrated teeth. They generally do not hunt prey larger than stingrays. On average the species reaches a length of 4 metres (13.1 feet) with the largest great hammerhead ever recorded exceeding 6.1 metres (20 feet).

Great hammerheads give birth to live young and litters are usually anywhere from 6 to 42 pups, with birthing occuring once every two years. These offspring can potentially go on to live 40 years or more.

With no natural predators, great hammerheads are only threatened by human overfishing. This comes in the form of both accidentally being caught in fishing nets, as well as specific targeting by some fisheries for their fins. Due to the size of their fins, great hammerheads are usually a favoured target.

The best place to dive with great hammerhead sharks in The Bahamas is Bimini, however during the the winter months, they can occasionally be seen at Tiger Beach and epic photographic opportunities often arise, with multiple species coming together.

Bull Shark

Perhaps the most feared of all sharks, the bull shark is a predatory species found in coastal waters that also boasts an incredible ability to move into and live within bodies of freshwater, including rivers and lakes. They readily migrate between saltwater and freshwater and have been found significant distances inland.

This behaviour along with their propensity for favouring shallow waters, brings them into contact with humans more than any other shark species, and they’re therefore responsible for fatally biting more people than any others. However, these incidents are extremely rare.

Typically, when a bull shark does bite a human, it only takes a single exploratory bite and quickly realizes that the person is not it’s preferred prey and then swims away. Unfortunately, as with Great Whites and Tiger Sharks, due to their size even an exploratory bite can be fatal or cause extreme bodily trauma.

Bull sharks are large and aggressive predators, reaching lengths of around 3.5 metres (11ft) and weighing in at over 300 kilograms (700lbs). Their diet primarily consists of bony fish, birds and marine mammals however they are known to eat almost anything they can get their jaws around. Sometimes even including dolphins, sea turtles and other sharks.

The Sharks Of The Bahamas
Bull Shark swims past a group of divers

Their name is inspired by their short, rounded snout, as well as their confrontational disposition and a tendency to head-butt prey before attacking. Their bodies are thick and stocky with long pectoral fins that usually have dark tips, particularly on younger individuals. Their underbellies are usually white while the rest of their body is a dark grey colour.

When fully grown, adult bull sharks don’t have any natural predators, however full maturity doesn’t occur until they are at least 15 or 20 years old.

At present the bull shark species is not actively fished and their greatest threats are accidental capture, particularly in freshwater rivers, as well as targeted shark culling, which aims to create safer environments for beachgoers in tropical areas.

The best place to dive with bull sharks in the Bahamas is Bimini Island, however they can also at times be seen along the sand flats at Tiger Beach. As with all the other shark species, they should not be approached but rather just observed with caution from a safe distance.

READ MORE