The summer of 2001 has been called the summer of the shark. This summer, several people were attacked by sharks while wading or swimming in shallow water in the Caribbean, near Florida and in The Bahamas. Although shark attacks are always possible, shark attacks are very uncommon. Still, we must be cautious about sharks whenever we visit them in their oceans.
You don't usually see big sharks near the tropical coral reefs. Big sharks don't hang out near these reefs because there simply isn't enough for them to eat. Reef fish are small and fast, and there are plenty of places for these little fish to hide in the holes and tunnels in the coral reef. Fast swimmers like big sharks need other big fish that also live in the open ocean for food. Such food fish are not often found near coral reefs.
Because big sharks are uncommon near tropical reefs, I was very startled to see this big fish. This shark was seven-and-a-half feet long! Several of the ReefNews staff saw it near the surface, about 15 feet underwater in water that was 80 feet deep. There were five divers in the water and this shark swam straight at us, veering off at the last moment to cruise by each diver for a close look. I watch it swim by me, then I looked away to see if the other divers were comfortable being in the water with this big animal. The other divers were calm, and everyone was enjoying seeing this fish. When I looked back at the shark, it was still swimming by me. That's when I realized just how big this shark was. I saw this shark on my 182nd dive in the ocean, and after spending 111 hours of my life underwater this was only the second time I had ever seen a shark swimming with me.
We saw this shark at North Wall near Bimini. Bimini is a group of small islands in The Bahamas that ReefNews visited this summer. North Wall is a beautiful reef that is about 70 or 80 feet underwater. The North Wall is a cliff at the edge of the underwater canyon between Bimini and Florida. The canyon is over 6000 feet deep in places, and there are many open-water fishes (such as tuna and jacks) that live in this canyon. The North Wall is a good place to see these kinds of fish.
It is hard to identify sharks in the water. Like a Spinner Shark, this shark was slender, had a dorsal fin that started behind the trailing edges of its pectoral fins, and had long pectoral fins that had black tips underneath. But like a Dusky Shark, it had a short and rounded snout and did not have a white stripe on its side near its tail. Divermaster Melanie Philippi of Bimini Undersea identified this animal as a Dusky Shark, and a zoologist from the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed with her, so we will say it was a Dusky Shark.
This shark probably weighed over 400 pounds!
Learn more about the Coral Reefs of Bimini on the 2001 ReefNews CD-ROM
Bimini: Jewel of the Gulf Stream
Tessa Dowell took these pictures using a Nikonos V with 28mm lens and SB105 strobe. This photo was taken during the ReefNews research expedition to Bimini, June 2001.