Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sport Diver Magazine Dives Shark Reef

The Bahamas are a lovely, but far flung place, and so photographer Justin Lewis and I, on assignment for Sport Diver Magazine, traveled by small plane between various islands.
Our last stop was Long Island, home to Stella Maris Resort. The dive operation at Stella Maris Resort is long-lived (44 years of family-run operation) and equivalently polished, but they haven’t lost their sense of fun. We spent two days diving aboard the Sol Mar II diving with Matt Thomas and Robert Coakley, guides who knew the local reefs intimately, and also knew how to have fun. We dove the wreck of the M.V. Comberbach and a reef called Barracuda Heads, yet another Bahamian blue-on-blue spot populated by horn-like badinga sponges and great barracuda and schools of fish that threw their cloud shadows on the sand.
For divers, a trip to the Bahamas isn’t complete without a shark dive. I have been on other shark dives, and they have all been attention-getting (there’s no other alternative), but they’re often crowded too. Our shark dive with Stella Maris was attended by four divers, making the shark to diver ratio about three to one. We knelt on the white sand bottom. Above our heads – in blue, blue water not unlike sky – lean Caribbean reef sharks made anticipatory loops: they knew what was coming. When the sharks finally fed - making darting strikes into the proffered chum bucket - it was an unanticipated emotion I felt. Feeding is serious business for any living organism, and sharks eat with eye-popping panache, but beneath the water there was a palpable sense of serenity. When they weren’t striking at the bucket of fish chunks, the sharks moved like syrup. Pronging down from overhead, the sun bestowed the arena with a cathedral light.
Turn a shark on its back and it will slip into a sleeplike state biologists call tonic immobility. I knew exactly how they felt.
--- Ken McAlpine

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