The Great Hammerheads of the Bahamas have been a serious draw for shark enthusiasts for nearly a decade. These traditionally rare, shy, and hard to find animals have become the main attraction at several dive sites in the Bahamas, including Bimini and Tiger Beach. We became spoiled with reliable encounters, high numbers of sharks, and thrilling dives! Day after day after day!
What happened to all the sharks? In Bimini, there were normally between 15 – 20 animals during the dive season. Most of these animals were well known to us and had been faithfully returning to the dive site year-after year. At Tiger Beach, we were reliably seeing 2-3 great hammerheads, again, staying throughout the season and visiting the dive sites nearly every day. It made for incredible dives and photographic opportunities. But that all changed with the start of the 2020 dive season.
Normally, we’d expect to start seeing the great hammerheads returning sometime in December/January. The season was in full swing by February and the animals would typically stay around through the April/May time frame.
But concern started in the early months of 2020 when the season was clearly starting off slower than years past. We remained hopeful that the sharks were just slow to return. Perhaps some variation in their migration pattern? Maybe the water temperatures were not ideal for them? Or even worse, could they have perished?!? It was the start of real worry and concern.
You see, each year, the great hammerhead sharks would typically leave the warm waters of the Bahamas as the water begins to heat up significantly in the late spring/early summer. As a result of the tagging efforts of the Bimini Biological Field Station, the sharks were known to leave the Bahamas and head over the the US east coast, as far north as the Carolinas. But this was not good news.
Bahamas Protects Sharks
The Bahamas protects all sharks throughout their territorial waters. A national shark sanctuary went into effect in the summer of 2011 after advocacy groups lobbied for their protection. It encompasses over 630,000 square kilometers. Sharks enjoy protection from any and all commercial use fishing. The Bahamas has always been a leader in shark conservation, as well as shark tourism.
The problem, though, is that sharks don’t know they’re leaving the safety of a shark sanctuary. Each year, as they migrate off from the Bahamas, they have to run the gauntlet. Although long-line fishing was banned in the Bahamas back in 1992, it is still going on in the gulf stream. This is the main northward current that flows through the Florida straight and exactly the path the sharks migrate through. So there is definitely potential that the great hammerheads may have fallen prey to either targeted or accidental by-catch. It’s a terrible thought, especially when we, and so many divers from around the world, have come to know these individual animals.
Some of our favorites, like Scylla, Nemesis and Amphitrite have not been seen in years. Hope is diminishing.
|Last Known Location
|off the coast of South Carolina, 2021
|off the east coast of Florida, 2020
|off the coast of North Carolina, 2021
|off the east coast of Florida, 2020
|not detected since 2020
Needless to say, the 2020 and 2021 seasons were quite disappointing. That has turned into real concern for the animals and their conservation. Great Hammerhead sharks are extremely vulnerable to fishing pressures and are known to sucumb even after being released.
Some good news?!?
We’re hoping things may be turning around. During the 2022 and 2023 dive seasons, we did notice a slight uptick in the number of animals returning to the dive sites. At Tiger Beach, we had Queen, an absolutely massive great hammerhead shark, join the dives throughout the early part of the season. It was great to see her back as she had not been seen in a few years and we were getting worried. She did behave differently than past seasons. During mid-February, she suddenly stopped showing up and we were hearing rumors of a hammerhead shark injured by fishermen. Although fearing the worst, she returned to the dive site just about 3 weeks later as if nothing had happened. She remained for most of the season but did migrate off a bit earlier than years past, perhaps due to rising water temperatures. We also saw Blondie and a new, young male great hammerhead throughout the 2023 season. Scylla, an absolute star shark and frequent player at the dive site, has not been back.
We keep our hopes up and our eyes open with anticipation as we get ready for next season. Who will show up? Will any of our missing favorites make a surprise visit to the dive sites? We certainly hope so! If you’ve been out on the dives with the Great Hammerheads of the Bahamas and have a favorite shark or shark story, let us know in the comments below. It’s great to reminisce!
Read more about the The Missing Great Hammerheads of Bimini from Save Our Seas Foundation