Lost Girls Field Trip: Andros Island-Part 8

Adventure Travel, All Inclusives, Andros Island, Dispatches from the Road, Fitness & Workouts, Hotels & Resorts, Solo Travel, Websites and Blogs — By on March 25, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Jen: While I wouldn’t trade my position as 1/3 of The Lost Girls writing team for anything in…well…the world, I recently spread my journalist wings and accepted my first solo assignment: a 9-part web series on Andros Island for the pop culture travel site, Jaunted.com. But even though I temporarily flew away from the nest, I felt compelled to bring my stories home to you, my favorite TLG readers. So enjoy my eighth post and stay tuned next week for my ninth and final entry!
*****

Cage Free Swimming with Sharks: I was standing on the edge of a pontoon boat as a dozen Caribbean reef sharks circled below, watching, waiting, ready to feast. I popped my regulator into my mouth, adjusted my mask and lept fin first into the killer fish-infested waters.

When I told friends back in NYC that I was heading out of town for an impromptu vacation to Andros Island, they responded with an enthusiastic “Awesome” or “So jealous” or “Have tons of fun!” That is, until I mentioned the part about scuba diving with sharks. The record needle scratched: “Won’t you be afraid?,” “Will you be safe?,” “Do you have to sit in a cage?,” “Are you out of your mind?” To which I responded, no, no, no and maybe–but that’s not contributing to my desire to swim with possibly deadly creatures. I say possibly because as with many ocean inhabitants there is always some risk of an unfriendly encounter, but as most scuba divers will attest, sharks are hardly ever ones to worry about.

In fact, sharks are generally the animals you’re just, err, dying to check off your list! And ever since that first friendly nurse shark glided past me during my first open water dive in Belize years ago, I wanted more! So when I read the description of the Shark Emporium Dive (aka Shark Observation Experience) on the Small Hope Bay Lodge website, I knew it was something I absolutely had to do – or at least die trying. Ok, I’ll stop now-promise!

Here’s an excerpt from the formal dive description:

Divers and snorkelers can enjoy a thrill of a lifetime while learning about some of the most misunderstood creatures in the ocean. This afternoon excursion allows divers to view sharks up close, in their own habitat.

At Small Hope Bay Lodge, we believe in planned and responsible shark encounters that involve the least intrusive means of attracting sharks. This gives us an opportunity to learn many truths about sharks first-hand. Our philosophy is that knowledge dispels fear, and experience promotes wisdom. In running the shark encounter, our objectives are to raise awareness, evoke a sense of responsibility and to have fun!

Our shark encounter provides the sharks with a small amount of supplemental food on an irregular basis and therefore does not make the sharks dependent on us as a food source.

The supplemental food they’re referring to is a giant frozen block of fish parts called a Chum Ball, which one of the lucky Small Hope staff would have the privilege of hauling off the boat and into the ocean. On my dive, it was Ashley who drew the shortest straw, so dive masters Amanda and Loren accompanied our scuba crew of eight into the water. We were pre-instructed to descend to the bottom of the ocean 60 feet down and cop a squat on the sand. As we sat waiting, the sharks enthusiastically darted around above our heads in anticipation of the meal to come.

The second Ashley’s fins touched the water, the sharks swarmed and pulled at the chain attached to the chum ball, initiating a slight tug of war. Eventually, Ashley managed to drop deep enough to secure it to a fixed line about 40 feet below the surface. With that, it was ready, set, action as the sharks put on a dazzling show for the wide-eyed audience below.

We’d been told that once the chum ball was safely in place and its predators were happily feeding that we could float up and get a closer look. And although the sharks had absolutely no interest in us (apparently frozen fish taste much better than neoprene wet suits) we were to remain a safe distance of 20 feet away. Since Mark had given me one of his underwater cameras to use, I wanted to be one of the first to make the observatory ascent.

Maybe it sounds counter-intuitive to intentionally move closer to a shark, but this family was really quite tame. And as I floated in awe, I managed to capture a quick video clip of the feeding and tons of killer photos of my new finned friends.

After about five minutes, the sharks had gnawed their way through almost the entire “chumsicle,” with only one piece remaining. That’s when the battle for the last little ball began, something the Small Hope staff calls “The Rodeo” or “The Mad Dash.” This was the point in which we were instructed to exercise extra caution to avoid getting unintentionally bumped by an overzealous shark.

Fortunately they all remained remarkably passive and even stayed around the area to play for awhile and pose for more pictures. We were granted free time to roam around the reef or search the sand for shark teeth that may have fallen out during the feeding. Since Mark and I had to fly back to the States the next day, we departed little bit early just to be safe on time.

Back on the surface, we reviewed the play-by-play, oohed and ahhed over our coolest digital shots and then cracked open a cooler of beers for the ride back to the lodge. So was the experience all that I dreamed of and more, you ask? Well, in my personal scuba diving experience, it was one of the most radical underwater adventures I’ve had to date. But in the grand scheme of ocean life, I suppose, it was just another ordinary shark tale!

*****

Need video proof of my cage-free shark adventure? Check it out here:

Dying to view my entire Andros blog series to date?…Of course you are! Click here to re-visit Part 1-8!

Tags: ,