“Keep your hands down. We wouldn’t want you to lose any fingers. If a shark gets too close, bop it on the nose with your gauges. If anyone wants to back out, now’s the time to do it.” These were the directions delivered during our pre-dive briefing. After hearing the warnings, everyone is given a chance to back out and get their money back. Very few do.
A shark-feeding dive is a real adrenaline rush, particularly for first-timers and those who fear sharks. But the dives, in addition to packing a daredevil-esque wallop, are also educational; they allow participants to sympathize with these wonderful creatures that are being killed at unprecedented rates.
Both UNEXSO and Xanadu Undersea Adventures provide shark-feeding dives off Grand Bahama Island. After a safety briefing, certified divers are taken on a 30- to 40-minute boat ride to Shark Alley. Once in the water, divers drop to approximately 12m (40 ft.) and kneel on the bottom with their backs to an old recompression chamber. One or two dive masters swim with hand spears to keep watch over the area. As if on cue, larger fish start to arrive and are followed by the sharks. The sharks in this area are almost all Caribbean reef sharks, but occasionally a nurse shark shows up. While not usually aggressive, 2.4 to 3m (8–9 ft.) sharks can be quite intimidating, especially because they’re here for a meal.
One of the dive operators serves as the feeder. Dressed in a chain mail suit, he takes pieces of fish from a container, holds them out, and lets a shark grab the food from his hand. Divers are close enough to the feeding sharks to see the membrane over the sharks’ eyes close as they nab the fish. Frequently, the sharks swim right over the heads of the kneeling divers (remember to keep you hands down!). During the dive, the feeder will “trance” one of the sharks, by putting a chain mailed hand over the shark’s nose. The shark behaves as though it’s been anesthetized or hypnotized and can be brought over to the kneeling divers to be touched. The entire experience, which needless to say is a fantastic photo opportunity, lasts approximately 30 minutes.
These two dive operators and several others also provide regular scuba dives around Grand Bahama to such sites as Theo’s wreck and to underwater caves and tunnels that surround the island. It’s possible to encounter sharks on any of the open water dives.
For those looking for shark-less encounters, Grand Bahama Island is a tourist center with shopping, gambling, beaches, and numerous leisure activities. Freeport/Lucaya has more hustle and bustle than the more laid-back beach locations outside of town.
The Islands of the Bahamas (www.bahamas.com/grand-bahama-island/grand-bahama-island).
Tours: UNEXSO ( 800/992-3483; www.unexso.com). Xanadu Undersea Adventures ( 242/352-3811; www.xanadudive.com).
When to Go: High season is Dec–May.
$$$ Island Seas Resort, William’s Town, Freeport ( 800/801-6884 or 242/373-1271; www.islandseas.com). $ Royal Palm Resort & Suites, E. Mall at Settlers’ Way, Freeport ( 888/790-5264 or 242/352-5759; www.royalpalmsuites.com).