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CRITTER: Out to sea and surrounded by eight large tiger sharks

We left Grand Bahama Island off the coast of South Florida early in the morning heading out to sea on our 100 foot research ship.

Our goal was to reach the North Bahama Sand Bank 20 miles offshore and live aboard the ship for a week without seeing land. The purpose of the trip was to do four scuba dives a day at depths of 40 to 90 feet deep and hopefully observe large tiger sharks in their natural habitat at a location known as Tiger Beach.

We were in for a wild ride as a huge storm blew off the Florida coast and waves were crashing over the back of the boat while lightning and an 80 MPH wind whipped up the sea into a tangled mess. We finally reached the outer sand bank and went overboard quickly to avoid the bouncing boat and dropped to the sandy seafloor 50 feet below.

Once we dropped below the surface with our large cameras, we entered another world like nowhere else on earth. Below the boat the sea was calm and teaming with marine life. This remote part of the Bahamas is a marine sanctuary and many giant sharks and other fish species use the area as a nursery where pregnant females come to incubate their young in warm safe waters. Right off of the sand banks, the seafloor drops down into the cold depths of the sea several thousand feet.

The sharks were everywhere and there were too many to even keep track of them. In the 20 dives we did in the week, we were only feet away from eight giant tiger sharks that looked like a small school bus going by and over 50 8-12 foot lemon and Caribbean reef sharks along with huge 300 pound groupers and snappers. On the reef that surrounded the sandbank, there were thousands of colorful reef fish, huge moray eels and stingrays, and not another human in sight.

Later on after our trip some of our friends and family commented: You went out into the middle of the sea to live in a giant shark colony for a week, and paid to do so in the middle of a storm? Are you nuts!

I made this trip with underwater photographer Pamela Whitman, so we could show people that big sharks do not eat people and they are as curious about us as we are about them. The big female tiger sharks would meander by slowly and look right into the camera while the lemon sharks would come and lay down on the sand right next to you and grin, showing their three rows of large teeth. There were sharks everywhere you looked and not once did they make any threatening moves even though we were in their territory and they could do anything they wanted to!

A few times the sharks got a little too close for comfort and you could put your hand on top of their head and slowly push them away. One tiger shark came right at my camera and didn’t seem like it was going to turn away, so I moved quickly to the side and ran head on into a 12 foot lemon shark! Both of us scared each other and the shark zoomed away just as I put my hands up in the air. I am not sure who scared who, the most.

It was an amazing trip and we shot lots of great video and pictures. We know why these large sharks don’t eat people, but we wanted to put it to the test in their territory without feeding the sharks or altering their natural behaviour. Sharks don’t eat land animals like humans because their teeth are not designed to bite through bones.

They eat marine animals that have a lot of fat or sea turtles after they bite off the turtle’s flipper and it bleeds to death. The tiger sharks will saw slowly through the turtle’s shell to eat the insides. Sharks eating people is like us trying to eat a wooden tree branch. It takes more effort for a shark to eat a human, then it would get back in food value.

From time to time, a big shark will accidentally bite a surfer, diver or swimmer because we get in between the shark and the prey it is chasing. It happens and is always labeled “shark attack ” in the media, which is incorrect and just flat out unfair to the sharks. It is our fault that we go into their home and get in the way of their natural pattern of feeding. The sharks eat up all the dead and sick marine life, which keeps our ocean clean and healthy so we must protect them if we want a healthy sea to surf and dive in.

I am making a movie of our shark adventure at Tiger Beach and it will be posted up on our school marine life educational YouTube channel at Underwater2web, so please subscribe to the channel and share the videos with your kids. I will also post lots of pics of Tiger Beach on my Facebook under my name Terry Lilley. Enjoy and please respect the amazing creatures that call Earth home along with us humans.

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Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei Kaua‘i and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawai‘i go to www.reefguardianshawaii.org.
Source: The Garden Island

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