Snorkeling with Sharks in Nassau

“Get in the water without splashing. No kicking, and do not panic or thrash around,” the tour operators told us as we prepared for our third snorkel site of the day. Why all the stealth? That had something to do with the 30-some reef sharks that were schooled some 30 feet below us.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You are an adrenaline junky?
  • You like getting up close to wildlife in the wilds.
  • Great for water sports enthusiasts looking for the next stage of excitement.

Sure, they were distracted by the cage of chum the guides had dropped to the ocean’s floor, but that one shark kept rising close to the anchor line where the eight of us clung for dear life, floating quietly at the surface. “Don’t panic if one comes near you,” our guide had told us. “They can sense panic, and that will get them all agitated.”

Fins to the left, fins to the right.

Fins to the left, fins to the right.

Hmmm, wonder if they were sensing that I was now questioning my sanity. And what happens if one of the two people hanging onto the rope between me and the boat panics?

A Must-Do Dare?

I had been tempted to sit out that third snorkel site, but I knew that I’d regret that too. One of the mates aboard the Stuart Cove’s snorkel tour had assured me I didn’t want to miss it, and that no one had ever been bitten by a shark during the hundreds of times they had done this snorkel. Reef sharks are scavengers, and therefore rarely interested in fresh meat. Still, I like most sentient beings, have a respectful fear of sharks in big groups.

The first two snorkels — at Southwest Reef (where I was excited to spot a nurse shark on the bottom) and Schoolhouse Reef (named for its abundant juvenile fish, but I saw some gorgeous adult queen angelfish too) — were spectacular. But the third spot upstaged it with all the drama. Known as Runway Wall, it is also the site of the Bahama Mama wreck and filming for Into the Blue.

I waited at the back of the group, where people were jockeying for position to enter the water. Just as I was about to slip as noiselessly as possible into the water, the guide stopped me and pointed at a wayward shark that had decided to check out what was going on up above. As we waited for it to return to the bottom where it belonged, I took the opportunity to again do a sanity check and then again talk myself into doing this.

Sharks school around the tour boat before guides drop the bucket of chum.

Sharks school around the tour boat before guides drop the bucket of chum.

Facedown in Sharks

And then I was face-down in a school of sharks. It felt ominous, eerie. My heart thumped in my ears, and my breathing came rapidly. I watched as they swarmed around the chum basket, hoping there was enough to keep their attention. Okay, did that, ready to get out. But no, that wasn’t the plan. We all had to re-board at the same time, pulling ourselves silently, breath-held along the rope. I will not panic. I will not panic.

As it worked out, it was as awesome as they promised, watching the finned creatures up to 10 feet long circling below. At least in retrospect, anyway. After all, I can now cross THAT off my bucket list and never, ever have to do it again.

Practicalities

Stuart Cove’s (800-879-9832) is the first and last name for underwater adventure in Nassau. Students and divers from Sean Connery to Princess Di have been previous customers. Discovery Channel’s Shark Week regularly features the operation, named for its owner. It picks up customers at their hotels and transports them to its facility on the island’s west end for scuba and personal submarine excursions in addition to the snorkeling.

For more tips on Nassau travel, download the free Nassau Selective & Seductive smart device app by author Chelle Koster Walton.

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