travel

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas by Hannah Prewitt

December was a pretty crazy month for me. I left Fiji, flew to Australia, picked up a new underwater housing for my camera and flew to the Bahamas. There was a very good reason I was desperate to get a decent housing for my Nikon camera - I was going to swim in some beautiful clear water and with a lot of sharks.

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I was visiting my friend who is the part-owner of Ocean Fox dive centre on the island of Eleuthera. This very unknown but amazing place, also happens to be the host location of Shark School - a shark behaviour education program that enables anyone to swim safely with sharks. If I wanted to get some photos of sharks swimming in shallow water, this was the place to do it.

The first time I went in the water, we were just snorkelling and hoping to see something cool. We didn’t end up seeing any sharks, but I couldn’t believe how clear the water was (and I’m used to swimming in pretty clear water!). So I got my friend and my husband to freedive so I could get some beautiful underwater photos.

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Apparently this water isn’t even that clear compared to what it’s like in summer. Needless to say I’ll be visiting again in summer!

I was slightly disappointed we hadn’t seen any sharks on our snorkel, so the next day we went diving to a site where we were guaranteed to see them - the aptly named Shark City. As we pulled up to the site, there were sharks already swimming around the boat. It had been a pretty long time since I’d swum with sharks so I was VERY excited to get in the water. I remember rolling off the boat and looking down and seeing this:

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Not for one moment did I ever feel scared or threatened, but there is something very comforting about wearing dive gear. We pretty much spent the entire dive sat on the sand and watching the sharks swim up, check you out and then swim off. It was magic.

But deeper water isn’t really my thing from a photographic point of view. I wanted to see these animals just below the surface, under the natural light of the sun. So on the surface interval, I did just that. Following a very strict set of instructions on how to behave in the water, and what not to do to overexcite the sharks, I got in on my own to shoot. I hate to admit it, but this time, I WAS nervous.

And rightly so. Since there were no divers in the water this time, it looked more like this:

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This was shot at 16 mm, so these sharks were a lot closer than they appear. And there were lots of them. Some were about 6-7 ft long, which looks a lot bigger when it’s swimming straight towards you. The ocean was pretty choppy at the surface too, which made keeping my composure and shooting all the more difficult. I held onto the back of the boat by a rope, maintained a vertical position with my body and was careful not to kick bubbles into the sharks faces, and managed to get a few photos I was happy with.

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After this experience, I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in the water snorkelling with them again. It was pretty nerve-wracking and difficult to shoot with intention. But I wanted more photos. So we decided to take a different approach and go without anyone else and just swim at the site without having dived beforehand. This way the sharks were much more relaxed and the whole experience was completely different.

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We still had to be careful not to excite the sharks by kicking too hard or splashing around, but we were able to freedive down and swim right next to them, which made it a lot easier to get photos.

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My aim with these images was to show sharks for what they really are - graceful and beautiful, and not at all interested in eating humans. However, they are to be respected and I wouldn’t recommend swimming in these conditions without understanding the species and how they interpret human behaviour in the water.

I would highly recommend this experience (in this location particularly) to anyone, especially if you are afraid of sharks. It was incredible and unforgettable and I’ll definitely be heading back when the water is even clearer!

If you have any questions at all or are interested in going here yourself, please feel free to contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

Swimming with sharks