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.

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.

 

Lemon Shark

Recognizable for the distinct yellow-brown hue of its skin, the lemon shark is found in coral keys and mangrove forests along parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. They tend to favour shallow waters within naturally protected areas like river mouths, bays, reefs and mangroves. One of the world’s larger shark species, lemon sharks grow to over 3 metres (10 ft) when fully mature.

Their yellow skin colour, which inspired their name, provides the lemon shark with perfect camouflage in the shallow, sandy areas where it forages for food. This, along with a stocky build, flattened head and short snout, makes the lemon shark a highly skilful predator, preying on bony fish, crustaceans and stingrays. They have also on occasion been seen feeding on seabirds and smaller sharks.

The lemon shark’s retina is equipped with a specialised “visual streak,” which allows them to see fine details and colour. Even though they can be found venturing out into the open ocean at times, for the most part lemon sharks stick to a defined home range and congregate in groups, sometimes upwards of 20 individuals, who feed together at dawn and dusk.

During daytime hours, lemon sharks are usually found “resting” on the sea floor, allowing small fish to clean parasites off from their body. Funnily enough, these rest periods actually take up more energy than swimming as the shark must continually pump water over its gills in order to breathe.

Lemon Sharks

Lemon shark’s are viviparous, which means they give birth to live young rather than lay eggs. Embryos develop inside the mother over a period of up to 12 months. Females then seek shelter in shallow ‘nurseries’ during spring or summer in order to give birth to a litter, which can be as large as 17 babies. Pups remain in the nursery for several years. Here they are sheltered from larger predators and are able to feed on nutrients provided by nearby mangroves.

The mangrove swamps of the North Bimini Lagoon gained global fame when years of research revealed that female lemon sharks born here, return to the same nursery site to deliver their own pups 15 years later.

Due to its size, the lemon shark is targeted by commercial and recreational fisheries for their fins, meat and leather and is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. The shark’s fins and meat are highly sought after to be sold on international markets.

Lemon sharks are extremely common in the Bahamas, especially at Tiger Beach and across Bimini.

 

Nurse Shark

The Nurse Shark is one of the most commonly found shark species on coral and rocky reefs throughout the eastern Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean.

They are very easy to identity thanks to their yellowish-brown colour, characteristically round heads and barbels – which they use to search for prey – similar to that of a catfish. Another trait shared with catfish, nurse sharks are one of the only shark species able to lie still for extended periods of time, and they spend the majority of the daylight hours resting in caves or under rocks, sometimes in groups.

During dusk, dawn and overnight, nurse sharks become active and seek out prey items which range from fish and rays to invertebrates. They feed through suction and swallow their prey whole.

Nurse sharks are considered a medium species which can grow to around 3 metres (10ft)

Nurse Shark on the sea floor

Thanks to their relative inactivity during the day, nurse sharks are not targeted by commercial fisheries and are extremely common around reefs. It’s advised to not pet nurse sharks around the mouth or to pull on their tails as some individuals have been known to bite divers or swimmers when startled them.

The best place to swim with nurse sharks in the bahamas is the Exumas. A small chain of islands with sapphire-blue waters and footprint-free beaches. The waters of Compass Cay hold a large number of sharks that islanders consider welcome guests.

Compass Cay is a private island in the Outer Exumas, where the sharks are known to to have very stable temperaments and are even said to be docile and friendly with divers.

 

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

The Oceanic Whitetip Shark is a wide ranging species, found throughout warm latitudes across all oceans. They are a pelagic species, living in the high seas and hunting in the open ocean.

Their name is derived from the white end-tips of their dorsal, pectoral, and tail fins. The dorsal and pectoral fins are distinctly rounded rather than pointed like with most other shark species. They are considered a medium sized shark species and generally grow to around 3 metres (10ft) and an average of 160 kilograms (350lbs).

Oceanic Whitetip Shark | Getty Images

The oceanic whitetip shark’s diet is made up of a variety of pelagic bony fish like – skipjack tuna, common dolphinfish – and squid. Though they have also been known to take sea turtles, various seabirds and marine mammals.

They play a primary role in shark feeding frenzies, which are caused when mixed groups of predatory species come together to feed, and are known to have attacked survivors of plane and shipwrecks, floating out at sea.

Oceanic whitetips are constantly on the move as they cannot pump water through their gills in the way that nurse sharks can, and so they need to be endlessly moving forward with their mouths slightly open, allowing water flow and oxygen intake from the water.

 

As with most larger shark species, they reproduce via internal fertilization and give birth to fully developed, live young.

Unfortunately, Oceanic whitetip fins are among the most sought after for shark fin soup and they are highly targeted by commercial fishing operations. Due to this, population numbers have decreased dramatically and still continue on a downward trend. Scientists now believe this shark is vulnerable to extinction.

Cat Island is arguably the best place on earth to dive with oceanic whitetip sharks due to strict anti-shark fishing laws in the Bahamas.

 

Silky Sharks

Silky sharks the largest members of the ‘ground sharks’ family and depending on geographical location, can sometimes also be known as the Grey Reef Shark, Olive, Whaler, or even Blackspot.

They are generally found in tropical, coastal and warm oceanic waters. The species has been recorded at depths of up to 500 metres, and even as shallow as 18 meters.

They are a slender-built and medium-sized species, reaching a maximum of up to 346 kilograms (750lbs) and 3.5 metres (11ft) in length. However they tend to be slightly smaller on average with females ranging between 2.1 to 2.3 metres (7.5ft) in length, and males 1.8 to 2.1 metres (6-7ft).

Named ‘Silky’ due to their smooth, soft skin, silky sharks also boast another distinctive feature, their teeth are finely serrated, unlike those of other sharks which are concave in shape.

Silky Shark

In tropical waters, Silky Sharks breed every two years and typically give birth to between 2 and 14 live offspring per litter.

Silky sharks are known for their fast reactions and aggressive behaviour and can sometimes be observed displaying threatening body language – by raising their head, arching their back, and lowering their tail. They are a carnivorous species and typically feed on fish, squid, and pelagic crabs.

 

They are, unfortunately, one of the three most traded shark species in the global fin trade, and among the most common by-catch species in the tuna fishing industry. They are also one of the most commonly used species for cleaned and dried shark jaws which are sold to tourists visiting tropical countries.

Despite being the world’s most abundant shark species, the silky shark has a current global status of Vulnerable on the IUCN Redlist.

The best place to spot silky sharks in The Bahamas is the Lost Blue Hole in Nassau but they can also be seen around Andros Island all-year-round.