Published: January 25th 2012January 18th 2012
Made it to the Bahamas with Mom and Dad two days ago. Travel seemed long, as I had not slept the night before and spent a good portion of the night and morning of travel crying after the last video chat with good friends. Arrival in the Bahamas was smooth and easy. The air was certainly warmer than Colorado, but not as warm as you might think, it is their off season for tourists and is a little cooler then the scorching summers. The taxi driver was a nice local with multiple colored ties hanging from his rear view mirror that swayed as he drove around the roundabouts on the left side of the road and right side of the car. Bahamas used to be under British rule.
The Sheraton resort looked very nice as we pulled up to the front where a Bahamian bell hop unloaded our bags and took them into the over sized lobby complete with gift shop, couches, big windows facing the bright blue ocean and coffee shops. From my age, my parents and common sized two rolling duffels; everyone who saw us knew I was a semester at sea kid with
my parents. This indicated that there must be many of us around. We then made our way through the overly chilled hallways following our bellhop up the elevator to the eighth floor. The hallways were incredibly long, skinny and slightly run down looking. The room was nice, but not as nice as the brand new room depicted on their website. The beds were a little hard and the walls and furniture a little chipped, but overall a nice place to be. As we stepped onto the deck, we had a nice view of the construction of other resorts to our right and a slight ocean and beach view to our left with resort upon resort on the beach front straight ahead of us. I proceeded to pass out in the middle of the day.
Upon waking up, we explored the resort and passed through its casino to a little restaurant that had just ok tasting food. Walking back we decided to walk past the incredibly elaborate pools with bridges, rocks, waterfalls, streams and bars and then back to the room where I passed out again.
The next morning I woke up for
the shark dive!!! Mom and I had decided to exercise our certification while in the Bahamas with a shark-feeding dive. The morning was quick paced as I had slept in and woken up to a quick egg-mc-muffin and coffee. Mom and I put on our swimsuits, grabbed our masks and caught the Stuart Cove bus, running on island time/ never on time. The bus was packed with people filling out gear rental forms and liability and release forms. As the bus stopped at more and more resorts the bus got hot and the fold out aisle seats were used to cram people in. A couple of semester at sea people from Colorado sat in front of me, haha small world. When we arrived at a little dock with a scuba boat, we rented our gear and jumped onto a dive boat with 22 others.
The first dive was a follow the leader type dive where we swam along the edge of an underwater sea cliff. Took a bit to remember everything about diving but it all came back pretty fast. The water was perfectly blue and incredibly clear with extreme visibility. For the first time ever I
saw a shark in the wild! A reef shark swam by in the distance. As we kept going, we came across a massive lobster!! Must have weighed more then 20 pounds!! He was very content under his rock in the sandbar. As we moved away from the sea cliff and to the sandbar, we tested our weights to see if we could comfortably rest on the sandy bottom without tipping over. I was tipping a little, so clearly a bit more weight was needed. We continued the dive until we came across a small sunken boat. All the different Bryozoans, corals and creatures growing all over the side fascinated me. I was also pleased to see more reef sharks swimming overhead, none of them more then six feet long. As I came to the top of the wreck I spotted a big lion fish hidden under a broken door. They are not native to the area and are actually a big problem in the area because they have a huge appetite and no predators. We continued to the rest stop for three minutes at fifteen feet and then surfaced to clamber back onto the boat.
prepared for the second dive our dive master Beto gave us a long safety lecture. The goal was not to make any arm movements. This meant sitting cross-armed unless we needed to fix our mask or something in which case we had to keep our arms close to our bodies. We were also instructed that if a shark bumped us or a current knocked us over to let ourselves fall and not to make any sudden motion to catch ourselves. Once down a guide would push us back upright. We were to dive down to a large circle of rocks called the shark arena. When we reached the bottom we were assigned a rock to sit by around the outer edges of the circle where we could sit on our knees or cross-legged. The extra weights we had added to our weight belts kept us stable on the bottom. Mom was unfortunately unable to join me on this second dive due to gear complications at the surface.
After waiting a while and getting everyone situated, Beto jumped into the water in a full chain mail suit with a chum box and a pointed metal rod. Immediately the
sharks that had been swimming by occasionally overhead started to gather around Beto. They seemed to swarm around him like ants to a little pile of sugar. Pretty soon there were at least 30 sharks inside our circle of divers swimming around the chum box and getting close to Beto to wait for their chance. I thought I would be a little nervous or scared, but I wasn’t! It was so amazing!! Sharks would swim right next to me into the circle and directly over my head to join the crowd. All of the sharks were Caribbean reef sharks, which are relatively small ranging from 6-10ft as adults.
The sharks could have cared less about the rest of us divers--all they wanted was the fish in the box. As Beto opened the box and got a fish head on the rod excitement stirred through the swarm in a wave. When the pole of fish was brought out, the nearest shark immediately opened its jaws, sped for it and took it right off the pole. She swallowed it whole in one gulp and cruised out of the circle right over my head. I looked straight up and watched
as each fin and her long belly swam quickly over me. The frenzy continued in the circle with a maximum of 50 sharks swimming in and out of the circle around us at one time.
It was absolutely fascinating to be able to watch them this close and see their massive jaws open with rows of sharp teeth closing down on the bait and now and then Beto’s arms. Beto was very relaxed; in fact he seemed to be enjoying it. If a shark bit him they would taste the chain mail and immediately let go and Beto would act like nothing happened. The chains would actually catch some of the shark teeth and I could see them fall like white pearly triangles to the sand at his feet. This of course did not hurt the sharks as they have new teeth that rotate into place when one falls out. Beto would even pet the sharks as they swam by.
One of the interesting things was the reaction the sharks seemed to have when they were over stimulated with the excitement of food. All sharks have very sensitive and extremely good sensory organs all
over the front of their nose. They can sense many things, from smells to water pressure and movement from electricity created by muscle movement. When the sharks would bump their nose on the chum box or grab a piece if fish, their big round eyes would roll into the back of their head exposing the whites and making them look really eerie. I do not know what this was from or why they did it but it was interesting. There was also a shark with a messed up jaw. Most of the sharks were female which you can tell from the claspers (penis fins) and this particular female looked as if she had gotten stuck on a hook at one point in her life that pulled one half of her jaw downward exposing the inside of her mouth. Hence, her nickname the Joker.
The photographers made their way around the circle taking pictures of each diver with sharks in the background. Right after the camera left from my position, a shark swam so close to my head that its fin bumped my snorkel on my mask. I turned my head to watch the long sandpaper skinned body
go by. A shark also swam right towards my face, but knowing what I do about them, I knew it would sense me and move over the top of my head, which it did as it got closer. As Beto started running out of the only 30 fish pieces that he had the sharks started getting a little more aggressive towards him. They were now bumping into the box and knocking it over and at one point a shark bit his pointer finger and got momentarily stuck in the chain mail in which case he shook it off.
One of the neatest parts was when Beto grabbed a shark. As a big female came in to investigate he reached in front of her and started rubbing her nose very fast. This greatly confused her senses to the point where her eyes rolled and she settled to the bottom of the sand to regain control. Beto slowed down the nose rubbing but kept it up so she would stay calm. He then lifted her up effortlessly by the dorsal fin and walked around the circle showing us her long beautiful body up close as he kept lightly rubbing.
She sat very still and confused looking by the situation with gills still pumping in and out effortlessly until she was set back down on the sand and the nose rubbing stopped. She then took off like nothing had happened.
At this point we had been under water for 45 minutes at 40 feet and it was time to get back to the surface. So Beto swam away with the empty box, all the sharks trailing behind. When the coast was clear we were given the signal and everyone quickly searched the sand for those pearly white teeth stuffing them in their wetsuit arms. I wanted one so badly but did not get one in time and was not able to get one from the greedy folks who had more then one. We swam up, did our rest stop and surfaced to get back on the boat.
Once everyone was back on Beto quickly swam back and jumped on. The boat started up as everyone peeled of their wetsuits, warmed up in the sun and dried off. One of the interesting things mom and I thought about was what feeding these sharks may do
to the ecosystem and to the sharks natural tendency to leave humans alone. What was very neat though was Beto’s talk on the way back to shore. He talked to us about why dives like these feeding dives are important because it raises the awareness of the misperception of man eating, incredibly dangerous sharks. They really are not man eating and have no intentions of harming humans. Sure given the right situation where a swimmer or surfer looks like a seal or is splashing like an injured fish, a shark may bump or bite out of curiosity to discover what it is, but these incidents are much more rare than people think and the good news is, almost none of them are deadly. Sharks do not like humans so they do not come back for more. In fact, in the U.S. there are on average 16 shark attacks per year and only one fatal one every two years. This means that if you swim in the ocean regularly your chances of being bit are one in 11.5 million and your chances of death by a shark is one in 264.1 million. These are incredibly small odds if you take into
account that other freak accidents are more likely. Apparently 38 people die every year from lighting (according to Wikipedia).
Beto also talked about, that compared to the millions of sharks humans are killing every year, one human every other year is nothing. He wanted to raise awareness about the extreme shark extermination that is happening worldwide. As by-catch and for shark fin soup, (a highly prized commodity in Asia) sharks are being fished and killed at 100 million a year only for their cartilaginous fins. A bowl of shark fin soup can fetch a price of up to U.S. $1,000 per kg. This is depleting the oceans of the ecosystems top predator, necessary to maintain balance. All species are coming closer and closer to endangerment everyday. Not only is this a tragedy, it is cruel. The sharks are caught, their fins cut off and their live bodies thrown into the ocean wiggling without moving forward until they drown to death because they cannot pass oxygenated water over their gills without movement. Beto informed everyone briefly of this situation and his hope that if we enjoyed our experience, we should go home and do something about it, join
a website, group of some sort, make a change and never eat shark fin soup. I thought this was a very important message and a very good reason for doing shark feed dives. Luckily California recently passed a law banning shark fining and the retail of them.
Long story short, it was an amazing experience and something I have always wanted to do. I have it on video and will try to post it here and if I cannot you will have to see me when I get back!
The evening was spent back with both parents, where we went out to a fancy seafood dinner at the Poop Deck. Again with the island time waiting, but I had the best tasting grilled lobster tail I have ever eaten dipped in lemon butter while we talked over dinner about what we all remembered when we thought about our childhood. Feeling very full we wandered back into the resort and decided to walk past the pools to the perfectly white sandy beach with millions of tanning lounge chairs. The beach and water were stereotypical Caribbean beautiful with a few feral cats jogging along side us
in case of any scraps.
Last day before boarding the MV Explorer was today! I woke up to a beautiful sunny day in the Bahamas and the sound of construction. I decided it was beach day, so I put on the bikini, lotioned up my papery white Humboldtian skin with 30spf, grabbed the required 80pg reading for the voyage and headed down to the millions of tanning lounge chairs. The air was nice and warm, the water beautiful and glistening and the resort lobby and beach bustling with tons of semester at sea students. They were everywhere. The strange thing was, I didn’t want to get to know people and try to make new friends today, I just wanted to relax and enjoy my last day before I was stuck on a ship with them all for 105 days. So I found a shady spot and read through the entire book called A Small Place about the island of Antigua and how it has changed over the years due to tourism from a native’s perspective. It was also about what it is to be an ugly tourist on your “beach vacation” and how all the
locals really hate you but want the tourism at the same time which really got me thinking about where I was and raised a lot of questions for me. How did the Bahamas get this way with resorts from end to end on the beach and poverty in the center? Do the locals feel that way here? Where does all of the resort waste go? Don’t the resorts help to create jobs? If they do then why are so few in the upper class?
As I finished up the book I contemplated these things and watched all the students around me making friends and playing volleyball. I tanned a little while listening to a native beach steward talk with a man behind me about how to be more like him, get the ladies, and act more American because that was the way to be and we had the life. He wanted to get off the island, but had no money. As the man explained to this local how vast the U.S. is and how long it takes to drive across the local was stunned and amazed, unable to comprehend such a thing after living on a 21
mile long and 7 mile wide island his whole life. Very interesting to listen in on.
I ended up meeting a few people who invited me to the Hard Rock Café. So we had dinner with them and their parents talking about the trip and getting to know each other. After dinner the parents headed off to the ship to get their official tour and parent’s orientation while us students went to the Senior Frogs bar to meet others and try some Caribbean drinks, as the drinking age is 18 here. The place was packed with SAS students chatting and getting to know each other. I met quite a few people and tried a drink called a yellow tail. The DJ got tons of people dancing and drinking and participating in activities. I enjoyed the time there and knew I would never remember all these new names. The place was very loud and bustling, a good time. When the excited parents got off the ship we took a taxi packed with parents and their kids back to the Sheraton. The parents were very excited to tell us all about the experience we were going to have and all about the ship.
Back at the room I repacked my duffels while chatting with mom and dad about the experiences to come. Tomorrow I board the ship at 8:40am and get all checked in and oriented and the experience begins!!