Sharks of the Bahamas on the charter sailboat Cat Ppalu.
Sharks
of the Bahamas
on the charter sailboat Cat Ppalu
SHARKS
To those unfamiliar with the patterns and behaviors of sharks, it seems almost unfathomable that anyone would willingly put oneself close to them. This, however, is precisely what our passengers do every week. People have been diving with sharks in the Exumas since 1992 without any incidents. There are no records of scuba divers being bitten in the Bahamas other than those that tried to grab or touch a shark, were spear-fishing, or were hand-feeding sharks. The primary sharks we have on our dives are Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks.
While humans are seldom at risk from shark attacks, sharks are under serious threat from humans. Shark populations have suffered large declines because of humans. The demand from Asia for shark fins traditionally used for making soup, has led to the slaughter of many sharks by fisherman. The fishermen remove the fins and discard the rest of the body. A typical shark takes 3-4 years to reach sexual maturity at which time she gives birth to 1-4 pups per year. Less than 25% of these pups reach sexual maturity. If something isn't done soon to protect sharks, their decline may become irreversible. Shark feeding dives in the Bahamas have helped educate people about the threat sharks are facing. Several years ago, after long-line fishermen slaughtered over 50 sharks, the Bahamas passed laws prohibiting this practice. Recently the Bahamian government has moved to establish no fishing zones around many of the feeding sites.
Shark Identification
Historically, sharks left the area when scuba divers enter the water. The bubbles from the regulators scared them off. Since shark dives started in the Bahamas, many of the sharks have lost their fear of these bubbles. Has that made them more aggressive towards divers? No, but your chance of seeing a shark on a non-shark dive has increased greatly. Instead of diverting their course several hundred feet away from you, they now continue their planned course that frequently brings them close enough to be seen. This is a list of the sharks that have been seen on the trips of the scuba diving liveaboards Aqua Cat, Cat Ppalu and Blackbeard's Cruises:
Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi)
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Carcharhinidae
Size - Born 2 ½', mature 5-6', maximum 10'
Reproduction - 3-6 pups every after a one year gestation. A litter every 2 years. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat - Near bottom on outer reefs.
Diet - Fish, squid & octopus.
Diving with a Caribbean reef shark.
Identification:
  • Dark grey or grey-brown on top fading to white underneath.
  • First dorsal relatively small and begins at the rear of the pectoral fin.
  • Dusky markings on tips of dorsal, lower lobe of tail, tips of ventral and anal fins and the insides tips of pectoral. Similar blacktip has white anal fins.
Comments - This is the most common shark at offshore feeding sites. It is also frequently seen on other offshore dive sites without incident. It rarely bites people. Most serious bites are to spearfisherman with fish where the bite is an attempt to get them to drop the fish. Common but is very susceptible to human fishing. Long liners can wipe out all the Caribbean reef sharks in an area in a single night. It is sometimes seen sleeping on the bottom.
Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Order - Orectolobiformes
Family - Ginglymostomatidae
Size - Born 1', mature 6¾', maximum 10' but there are some unverified reports to 14'
Reproduction - 20-30 pups after a 6 month gestation. A litter every other year. Viviparous (live bearing). Males mature at 10-15 years, females at 15-20 years. Juvenile nursery areas shallow grass beds and reefs.
Habitat - Shallow water to outer reefs.
Diet - Feeds on fish, stingrays, squid, lobster and sea urchins. It sucks them in quickly with its small mouth.
Nurse shark Bahamas
Identification:
  • Yellow to grey-brown.
  • Large 1st and 2nd rounded dorsal fins. 1st dorsal fin aft over ventral fin. Lemon sharks also have two large dorsal fins, but they are more widely spaced with the 1st dorsal fin starting at the aft edge of pectoral fin.
  • Small mouth well in front of small eyes.
  • Long barbels.
  • Long caudal fin, over 25% of total length.
  • Their caudal fin lacks a noticeable lower lobe.
Comments - They are frequently found sleeping on the bottom under ledges. More active at night. Tend to remain in one area. Mating takes place in June. Males will gather at a specific shallow spot. When females arrive, one of the males will bite her by the pectoral fin and attempt to drag her into deeper water to mate. She will fight his efforts until she finds a male she wished to mate with. It is a very docile shark which will allow close approach. This docile behavior causes many divers to think they are safe to grab, but when provoked they will frequently bite.
Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Carcharhinidae
Size-Born 2', mature 7-12, maximum 24'
Reproduction-10-82 pups after 12 month gestation. A litter every other year. Born late spring. Only ovoviviparous (live berth but are nourished by an egg sack). Also uterine cannibalism. Fast growing, mature at 4-6 years.
Habitat-Near continental shelves. Move inshore at night to very shallow water. Normally offshore during the day but are seen in shallow water during the day.
Diet-Sharks, rays, turtles, seabirds, fish, marine iguanas, sea snakes, marine mammals, carrion & rubbish
Tiger shark diving

Identification:
  • Large to very large shark.
  • Gray above with pale undersides.
  • Vertical black to gray bars & spots.
  • Blunt snout with wide mouth.
  • Body tapers rapidly after forward dorsal fin. Very narrow in front of caudal fin.
  • The caudal fin has a long upper lobe and short lower lobe.
Comments-They are seen on the reefs during the winter when the grouper are spawning. Also come into shallow water from late fall to early spring to feed on turtles. They are seen there at other times of the year, but not as frequently. They will eat almost anything with their most common food being turtles, sharks and seabirds. They have the reputation for being the garbage cans of the seas. They have been found with the following in their stomachs: license plates, grass, tiles, cardboard, ropes, shoes, barrels, tin cans, bottles and a birth control container.
Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Carcharhinidae
Size - Born 2 ½', Mature 6-7, maximum 10¾'
Reproduction - 2-14 pups on alternate years. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat - Offshore
Diet - Fish, squid and pelagic crabs.

Identification:
  • Large & slender
  • Grey to grey-brown above, white below.
  • First dorsal fin is rounded, starts behind pectoral fin.
  • Low 2nd dorsal fin has long trailing edge.
  • Long narrow pectoral fins.
  • Long, flat pointed snout.
Comments - In the past we have seen young silkies at the sea buoys off Nassau, but these were moved recently. It is one of the 3 most common oceanic sharks, along with blue and oceanic whitetip.
Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
Order - Orectolobiformes
Family - Rhincodontidae
Size - Born 2', mature male over 20', female over 26', maximum 60'
Reproduction - Little is know of their nursery grounds, one female had 300 pups. Ovoviviparous (live berth but are nourished by an egg sack).
Habitat - Pelagic, but are seen near shore.
Diet - Plankton, baitfish, tuna, squid & pelagic crustaceans
Snorkeling with a whale shark movie.

Identification:
  • Very large
  • Pattern of yellow or white spots on grey, bluish or greenish brown back and white underside.
  • Three ridges run along the sides and one at the top of the back.
  • Broad flattened head.
Comments - We have seen them over both shallow and deep reefs, normally near surface, normally in the winter. One was seen in deep water feeding on tuna. It hung at the surface vertically with its mouth open and let the tuna accidentally jump in while they were feeding on bait fish. These gentle creatures don't seem to mind divers approaching them.
Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Carcharhinidae
Size - Born 2', mature 7 ½', maximum 11'
Reproduction - 4 to 17 pups after a 12 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing). In the Bahamas they give berth in shallow protected bays surrounded by mangroves.
Habitat - They spend the first years of their life in very shallow water, gradually moving into deeper water as they grow. As adults they spend time on open sand flats and offshore reefs.
Diet - Fish, squid, octopuses, crustaceans & mollusks.
Diving with lemon sharks in the Bahamas

Identification:
  • Yellowish-brown uppersides, white or yellowish-white undersides.
  • Both dorsal fins approximately the same size and spaced further apart then a nurse shark.
  • Upper lobe of caudal fin much longer then lower.
  • Large anal fin.
Comments - We seen them in anchorages & harbors and while snorkeling mangrove creeks. Adults frequently are seen lying on the bottom during the day. A lot of research has and is currently being done at the Bimini Biological Field Station run by Dr Samuel Gruber.
Caribbean Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon porosus)
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Carcharhinidae
Size - Born 1', mature male 2' female 2 ½', maximum 3 ½'
Reproduction - 2-6 pups after 10-11 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing). Born in spring.
Habitat - Inhabit shallow coastal waters.
Diet - Small fish & invertebrates.

Identification:
  • Olive-gray to brown with pale underside.
  • Often have white spots on sides.
  • Long, flattened snout.
  • 2nd dorsal fin begins over middle of anal fin.
  • Fairly large eyes.
Comments - Very wary. If you are lucky enough to see one, it is likely to be as it swims away rapidly. It is a common prey for larger sharks.
Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyma lewini)
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Sphyrnidae
Size - Born 1 ½', mature 5' male, 7' female, maximum 14'
Reproduction - 13-31 pups after 9-10 month gestation. Viviparous (live bearing).
Habitat - Oceanic but sometimes cruise over walls, reefs and shallows.
Diet - Fish, sharks, rays & invertebrates.

Identification:
  • Light gray above, white below.
  • Front edge of hammer is slightly rounded and scalloped.
  • High 1st dorsal fin, 2nd dorsal fin small.
  • Rear edge of ventral fin straight (It is curved on similar great hammerhead).
  • Dusky or black-tipped pectoral fins.
  • Dark blotch on lower lobe of caudal fin.
Comments - These are seen rarely, usually off the walls.


Charter Sailboat
Cat Ppalu
3700 Hacienda Boulevard
Suite G
Davie, FL 33314
Phone 954.734.7111  Toll Free 800.327.9600  Fax 954.321.6582
Questions, comments, suggestions? Email: ws@catppalu.com
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