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oceanic whitetip shark cat island bahamas shark diving

Oceanic Whitetip Season has begun!

We have just made it back to Cat Island, one of the out islands of the Bahamas for the start of our 2015 Oceanic Whitetip Shark diving season.  The over 300 mile journey here was nice and smooth, with great weather on the water and some incredible sunrises and sunsets!

cat island sunrise

Just after arriving back on the island, the whole crew was greeted by all our friends from years past.  It was great to see everyone’s excitement that the “shark people” are back!  A few of the folks even asked why we have to leave every year.whitetip shark diving on cat island in the bahamas

Although we wanted to rest after a few really busy months at Tiger Beach and in Bimini, it was hard to contain the excitement for seeing the oceanics again.  Just staring out from the beach at that incredible blue water that surrounds Cat Island and knowing the Oceanics were out there swimming around, we just couldn’t wait.

We spent only a few minutes deciding which location to go check out first.  We returned to one of our favorite areas from seasons past and started to setup the chum.  Within just a few minutes of getting the bait in the water, we spotted to first shadow making it’s way to the bow of the boat.  Only seconds later, a second shadow and this time the dorsal fin broke the surface, leaving no doubt that we had oceanic whitetips with us!  It was such an incredible feeling.

By the time we got suited up to enter the water, we had 5 different Oceanics swimming around.  Getting back in the water felt like coming home.  We’ve been so used to nice shallow SCUBA dives with sharks at Tiger Beach and Bimini that this seems so different.  The water is deep and the color and visibility are like no where else.   Before leaving the water, we had 7 different Oceanics (6 female and one small male), and a few of them had been with us last season.  Can’t wait to go through the rest of the photos and add the other sharks to our ID Book.

Needless to say, we’re so excited to be back on Cat Island with the Oceanics and looking forward to the start of another incredible season here.  This marks our fifth year out here and we’re excited to share it with some great friends that are headed this way in 2015!!

oceanic whitetip shark cat island bahamas shark diving

We’re sad to leave Bimini but super excited to return home to Cat Island for the beginning of our Oceanic Whitetip Shark diving season. We’ll be returning to Bimini in January of 2016 for the hammerheads once again. Click here to learn more about our oceanic whitetip shark diving.

great hammerhead shark diving in bimini

2015 Great Hammerhead Season: It’s a Wrap!

We have just closed out our 2015 Great Hammerhead shark season here on Bimini and enjoyed incredible diving with some great friends. Bimini has truly become a unique dive destination offering the best encounters with the generally shy great hammerhead shark. Similar to Tiger Beach, divers can expect calm, clear and shallow conditions, optimal for extended bottom times and great for photography.

diver with great hammerhead shark in biminiAlthough there were a few weather days during the season, every group spent a ton of time underwater with the great hammerheads. Our dives averaged about 90 minutes and we saw anywhere from 3 to 8 great hammerheads each day on the water. We had no days without the sharks and the chum times spanned between 15 minutes up to 1 hour. There were also a few days where we simply landed on the hammerheads, and no waiting was required.

In addition to the stars of the show, we also regularly had nurse sharks, sometimes too many. We did see the occasional bull shark, but none that came in close, tried for the bait, or pushed the hammerheads away.great hammerhead shark diving in bimini

Our groups stayed at either the Bimini Big Game Club, or the Sea Crest Hotel and Marina. The Big Game Club was a great, friendly resort atmosphere with hotel, bar/restaurant, pool and marina all in one. Sea Crest offers great accommodations and the marina/boat are right outside the guest rooms. There’s no restaurant at Sea Crest, so most of the guests staying there took the opportunity to explore the island and visit a number of local eateries.

We’d like to thank all of our friends for visiting us and the great hammerheads in Bimini this year. It was great to add this species to our expedition calendar. The folks on Bimini have been great to us and we loved meeting up with the Bimini Biological Field Station for educational talks with the groups. We’re proud to have supported Sharks4Kids, a non-profit program run by Jillian and Duncan and happy to have met Grant and Katie who serve on the Bimini Tourism Advisory Board.bimini shark diving

We’re sad to leave Bimini but super excited to return home to Cat Island for the beginning of our Oceanic Whitetip Shark diving season. We’ll be returning to Bimini in January of 2016 for the hammerheads once again.

Interested in diving with the great hammerhead shark? Click here to learn more about our great hammerhead shark diving expeditions.

dusky shark rescue atlas epic diving

Dusky Shark Rescue featured by Oceana

We were thrilled to share the story of Atlas with Oceana, the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation.  They recently launched a campaign to bring awareness of the serious population declines of the dusky shark, and their desperate need for protection.

dusky shark rescue atlas epic diving

On the road to recovery, Atlas the Dusky Shark is free from his rope

Atlas was a large male dusky shark that came by our boat during this past Oceanic Whitetip Shark Diving season on Cat Island.  He had gotten his head caught in a rope which was causing a large wound circling his entire head.  Although a large adult shark, he was clearing very thin, even starving.  The rope was around his gills and pinning down one of his pectoral fins.  He was swimming awkwardly and unlikely to be able to hunt.  Atlas was not shy swimming among the group of divers and oceanic whitetip sharks.  After some time, he was getting closer and closer to us and it was obvious how serious his condition was.  We knew that if he rope was not removed, he would surely die.  We decided we had to make an attempt to cut him free.  The group, lead by Amanda Cotton of A Cotton Photo agreed to suspend their dive so that the crew could attempt the rescue.  It was uncertain how the dusky shark would react, and the group waited patiently on the boat to decrease the risk.

The shark swam slowly right up to the the three of us and Deb, Vin, and Amanda were able to cut the rope off and document the rescue.  It was one of our most rewarding experiences in the ocean and are so happy Oceana shared the story.

Here is an infographic from Oceana about the dusky sharks.  Check out their website for more great information.

dusky shark rescue

The Dusky Shark is in serious need of protection

Dusky Shark Rescue

dusky shark rescue atlas

Dusky Shark Rescue

During this past Oceanic Whitetip Shark Diving season on Cat Island, the crew at Epic Diving successfully rescued a dusky shark in desperate need of help.

The crew and guests of our annual A Cotton Photo expedition were horrified to see a large male dusky shark arrive near the boat with a very deep wound around his head. The animal never got close that first day, but we were able to see a large rope, presumably discarded fishing gear, that was tightly wrapped around his neck, just behind the gills. He was rather skittish and would not approach any of the divers, so we never had a chance to intervene.

epic diving dusky shark rescue

Male dusky shark suffers deep wound from discarded fishing gear

On the very next day, we were all surprised that he returned to the boat. This day, his behavior was much different. He came very close to the group and it was quickly apparent just how significant his predicament was. Not only could we see how deeply the rope had dug into his skin, but one of his pectoral fins was pinned back, and the shark was incredibly skinny. He was a large male with a disproportionally huge head on his emaciated body.

Everyone agreed, we had to do something. This shark was dying a slow death. We worked slowly and cautiously to feed the shark a few bits of fish, we he gladly ate up. After realizing that he was approaching closely and confidently, we put our plan in motion to free him from the rope.

The guests were very courteous giving up there time in the water with 5 Oceanics and the dusky, so that we could attempt the rescue as safely as possible. Vincent and Debra Canabal, owners of Epic Diving, along with Amanda Cotton, the expedition leader, slipped back into the water with a few tools, and cameras. We used some more bait to lure the shark closer to us, as well as to distract him from our mission. We were all fearful that we’d only get one attempt at the rescue. If the shark felt pain or threat, he’d likely take off and we’d never seem him again.

As the shark came in, we managed to get right behind his head (and mouth) as he approached to bait. As gentle as possible, the rope was lifted from his flesh and a pair of Tripura shears made quick work to cut it off. While doing this, the shark rolled over completely epithelial a bit if thrashing, and spun right out if the rope.

At that same moment, all 5 oceanic whitetip sharks changed their behavior immediately. They simultaneously charged at the divers and dusky shark in a rather agitated way. Fortunately, the crew was able to keep the oceanics at bay and they won pent back to their normal, calm behavior just as quickly as they changed.

The dusky shark stayed with the group for another few hours and we all wished him well as the boat pulled away.

dusky shark rescue epic diving

Vincent Canabal, Debra Canabal, and Amanda Cotton just after freeing Atlas

Once back on the surface, we reAlized why the oceanics behavior changed so suddenly. The rope that was around his neck smelled worse than the chum we used and we believe the oceanics were simply trying to join the kill they likely thought we initiated. With the obviously wounded shark, the smell from the wound, and the rolling dusky, the oceanics must have thought we went in for the kill. As soon as they realized the dusky was fee, swimming better than before, they backed off.

It was a truly incredible and rewarding experience. Amanda Cotton gave Atlas his name, very fitting give the experience. We all hoped to see him again, but would have to wait nearly a month for that.

A few weeks after the incident, the crew was thrilled to see him come back up our chum slick. Atlas was back, and looked so much better. The top, deepest part, of the wound had almost completely closed and he he certainly gained weight. From that day on, he was a daily visitor to the boat, and let’s just say, we tried to fatten him up. He remained a reliable visitor for the rest of our season and we are anxious to see if he’ll be around next year.

Dusky Shark Rescue

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