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If you are a diver or shark lover or both, then this time of year your feed is flooded with images of great hammerhead sharks. People from around the world flock to the tiny islands known as Bimini for a chance to see these amazing creatures up close.

As you kneel on the white sand bottom, a distinct silhouette approaches from the blue.

twelvefoot hammerhead maneuvers with grace and an unexpected agility, moving down the line of divers. It’s a truly magical experience to slip beneath the surface in crystal clear water and see these incredible animals. The Bahamas is considered “the shark diving capital of the world,” and these sharks have definitely become an iconic species in the region.  A study done by the Cape Eleuthera Institute determined sharks and rays generate approximately 113.9 million USD annually to the Bahamian economy. This means sharks are worth far more alive than dead.  

Great hammerheads are the largest species of hammerhead, reaching an estimated length of 20 feet (6.1 meters).They are easily identified by their hammer shaped cephalofoil (head) and large first dorsal fin. This migratory species if protected within the Bahamas shark sanctuary, but scientists at the Bimini Biological Field Station are studying both their regional and long distances migrations. Where do these sharks go when they are not in Bimini?  They have long been prized game fish as well as being caught in commercial and recreational fisheries, placing them on the IUCN Red List as endangered.  

This shark is truly an evolutionary wonder, with highly visible sensory adaptations.

Their large cephalofoil increases surface area for Ampullae of Lorenzini. These tiny electroreceptors, which make the shark look like they have freckles, can detect the heartbeat of a stingray camouflaged in the sand. As the shark swims in an S shaped pattern, this sensory system is scanning the bottom like metal detector looking for buried treasure.  

Their wide set eyes usually have people asking how well they can actually see? In 2009, a study led by Dr. Mikki McComb, found these animals have exceptional vision. Each eye has a 180degree field of view. Combined with their head movement during swimming, these sharks have increased binocular vision, depth perception and a full 360degree view of their underwater world.  

They are my favorite animal on the planet and every moment in the water with them is remarkable. I love seeing their personalities and behaviors. We see the same sharks year after year, which is really exciting. The Sharklab has named them which makes it easier for recording which individuals come to the provisioning site, how often and how long they are here in Bimini. My favorites are Amphitrite, Atlas and Scylla. Amphitrite is bold and often the first shark to appear on the dive. Atlas is one of the few male hammerheads seen, which is quite interesting. Scylla has been my favorite, but is now a regular at Tiger Beach, a region off Grand Bahama. I am hoping she makes a visit to Bimini this year.  

Their size and odd shape have earned great hammerheads a negative reputation.  

They’re really dangerous, right?” 

“Aren’t they known for being really aggressive.” 

Yes, they are big and bold (some more than others), but they are not terrifying monsters. They are predators and deserve our utmost respect every moment, but when done with knowledgeable and experienced dive guides, you can have a completely mesmerizing interaction.  

I recommend this dive and encourage people to select local and responsible operators. It’s a shallow dive, ranging from 18-40 feet, making it accessible for a wide range of divers. You kneel on the bottom, watching the sharks move in and out towards the line. You will also see lots of nurse sharks and possibly a bull shark or two. Last season a tiger shark showed up and made regular appearances. Happy to report “Joker” is back and she’s a lot of fun to dive with. It’s quite fascinating seeing multiple large species interacting in the same space.  Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins have even cruised through, along with mahi mahi and tuna. It makes the experience even more remarkable.  

We love Bimini Scuba Center because they work with the Sharklab and also support local education projects. Through our Sharks4Kids program we team up with them to provide field trips for students. We want kids in Bimini to grow up knowing why people come to see sharks and to be part of protecting them for the future. It’s important, no matter where you dive, to select responsible and eco minded operators. It’s worth doing the research, knowing you are supporting the community and conservation efforts.  

 

All photos by Jillian Morris-Brake

Photo of Jillian and Shark by Duncan Brake 

 

Their size and odd shape have earned great hammerheads a negative reputation.

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