Patric Douglas, founder of Shark Diver, is prepping my friend and I as we get set to enter the dockside cage at the Bimini Big Game Club in the Bahamas. Rob and I are seasoned divers and we’ve seen our share of sharks, so Patric feels obliged to give us a bit of a disclaimer.
“This is not really designed for diver divers,” says Patric about the new Bimini Bull Run — a four-person cage that puts you in the water with one of the oceans’ apex predators. “It’s designed for tourists, for people who’ve never seen a shark,” he says, “Divers don’t generally feel like they need to be in a cage.”
But it’s not every day you get to see a bull shark. In fact, today’s experience will be the first time I’ve come face-to-face with one, despite having logged over 500 dives around the world. As large dark shapes slink through the water below, I find it hard to believe I’ll be disappointed. Rob, a Navy Top Gun instructor and the owner of Tropic Ocean Airways — the seaplane company with which I’ve hopped a ride over from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini — might be harder to impress, however.
The bull sharks are drawn by free meals from fishermen who clean their hauls just a few yards from where the cage hangs (in less than 12 feet of water), and they’ve frequented this harbor for decades. “Ever since Hemingway was here, the sharks have been coming to this particular marina and dock,” Patric tell us, “On any given day we’ll have five or six bull sharks that top out at about 600 pounds swimming around.” He walks over to the fish-cleaning counter and turns on the water hose that usually serves as a dinner bell for the bull sharks.
As Rob and I drop into the cage, I have flashbacks to my first time cage diving with the great whites of Guadalupe Island. And as much as I love diving on scuba in the Bahamas with no barriers between me and the islands’ abundant sharks, I feel a different kind of thrill just being back in the cage and hearing the telltale clank of metal on metal. But this cage is more enclosed than the ones I’ve been in before. Designed to make non-divers feel comfortable in sharky waters, the cage has a mesh-like material over most of its bars - an effect that serves both to make guests feel like there’s more of a barrier between them and the bull sharks (which will sometimes nose the cage with curiosity, if you’re lucky) and to make sure divers appear only as shadowy shapes to the sharks. I pull myself up a few inches from the bottom so I have a view through the open bars at the top of the cage, allowing a clearer look into the blue-green waters of the marina.
Rob and I exchange wide eyes and do a little underwater shuffle of excitement as the first bull shark – a barrel-chested female easily pushing 400 pounds – fins in to snag a piece of wahoo tossed by one of the shark crew into the water. And even if I’m behind bars and in the admittedly unusual surrounds of a yacht marina, I feel the unmistakable rush that hits you the first time you see something new underwater. The large blunt snout, the off-white belly – it’s finally there in person. Another female bull shark soon appears, and they take turns blasting the short distance from the sandy bottom to the surface and targeting the tasty wahoo snack, before they’re joined by a third shark. The punchiness of the bulls differs from the Caribbean reef sharks I’ve observed in the Bahamas (“They’re a real charismatic megafauna,” was how Patric had put it topside, a fitting description). The sharks seem downright pestered by the multiple remoras hitching rides on their sleek bodies, and they contort like gymnasts in what appears to be an effort to dislodge the hitchhikers. Something about their bold moves and stocky physiques reminds me of bar bouncers.
I stay down for a good 35 minutes before I catch a chill and decide to surface, and I leave Rob gripping the cage’s bars, head swiveling side to side in search of approaching sharks. I wonder what the Top Gun pilot will say when he gets out. “Awesome,” he breathes, body still halfway in the cage and a smile no longer cramped by his regulator stretching from ear to ear. And I can’t agree more. Divers dive or not, having bull sharks swim so close was nothing short of sheer awesomeness.
**FOR MORE >> ** $120 per person gets you all the time you want in the cage during the course of your stay at Bimini Big Game Club