S: Dolphin Dream, April 9-15 2011
FC: Dolphin Dream, April 9-15, 2011
1: No, we did not dive in a cage. It was awesome. | Yes, we were this close to many sharks.
2: By the time we reached the Riviera Beach Marina on April 9, 2011, we'd traveled by car, airplane, bus, train, and taxi-mini-van, Then we finished the day traveling by boat to the Bahamas. Our boat, the Dolphin Dream, was 86 feet long. Seventeen people lived on that boat for a week, yet it never really felt crowded. The boat was well-designed, and the living spaces on the inside were nicer than I expected. Captain Wayne Scott Smith drove his boat, Gail was our amazing cook, and Connor and Travis were our dive guides and shark handlers. Although we technically spent a week in the Bahamas, we never once set foot on land in the Bahamas. All of our time was on or in the water.
3: The Dolphin Dream was once a shrimp boat named God's Will. Captain Scott remodeled it extensively to make it what it is today. He's been using this vessel for about 6 years. | Captain Scott | Gail | Connor | Travis
4: Who gets into a body of water that's full of sharks, willingly and excitedly? At one point while looking down on the sharks from the boat, I made the comment that in any other universe, this would be totally crazy. They told us to go straight down, and not to float on the surface, because sharks prey on things that appear to be dead or dying, and that includes any fish flailing on the surface. Once you're under water, you look like any other big sea creature. You can also scare away big sharks like Tigers by making eye contact, whereas the Lemons will just swim all over no matter where you turn your eyes. I was nervous to take the first step, but it was surprisingly not scary at all once we got down there. Instead it was cool. Really cool. | Our First Shark Dive Tiger Beach | They baited the sharks at every dive with chum (through a converted shop vac) and dead smelly fish tied in plastic milk crates that were hung from the boat and were also set on the bottom. Who knew those milk crates were that strong? | spent a lot of time messing with their huge fancy cameras daily. See those big red strobes sticking out from Christopher's camera? They got bit more than once by sharks, whereas our little cameras were not so enticing. | We were with some serious camera buffs who
5: So I was kind of expecting "Tiger Beach" to actually be a beach of some sort, but no, we were out in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight. It used to be called "Tiger Wreck, but now all that's left of the wreck is a big chain. | Tiger Beach
6: Tiger Beach Lemon Sharks | Remoras, aka "shark suckers"
7: The Lemons didn't seem to care about us at all. They swam all around us, and even ran into us. They looked like they were smiling at us. | We spent a little more than 24 hours at Tiger Beach, and did 5 dives there. No one did a night dive with the sharks. | The sharks actually let these little cleaner fish inside their mouths for several seconds to clean. No cleaner fish were eaten.
8: For most of the group, the lemons lost their luster after the tigers showed up.
9: Our First Tiger Shark Encounter, Tiger Beach | Notice how none of the photos are super close. We got braver with time. | Looks like we almost lost somebody here!
10: "Smiley" the Tiger Shark
11: Tiger Beach
12: We grew quite comfy around Smiley, taking for granted how comfy she is with people. She never bit at us or our cameras. The other Tiger sharks we met later were not as polite and friendly. | Smiley is a regular customer of the Dolphin Dream boat at Tiger Beach. | Smiley the Tiger Shark
13: Smiley got her nickname from that open/crooked spot on the right side of her mouth, probably caused by an old injury. | Smiley circled us closely for a long time, swimming right over our heads and right next to us, again and again. | Here you can see her protective eye membrane that covers her eyes when she eats.
14: Up Close with Smiley
16: When Dr. Gibbs saw this photo of Connor, he said, "Who's this?" I said, "That's Connor, one of our guides, messing with the shark. One day he got his fin bit off." Dr. Gibbs: "Connor's going to get his arm bit off!" Connor said it took a long time for him to get that comfortable with sharks. Fortunately, as far as we know, he does still have both of his arms and legs attached. | Connor, the "Shark Whisperer"
18: The photos on this page were all shot by Christopher Bartlett, who travels and dives a LOT. When I teased him about not smiling for pictures of himself, he said it's because he never shows those teeth of his for the camera. He had braces once, but kept losing his retainer. Oh well. Maybe someday he will help us book a safari/dive trip combo in Africa. www.indigosafaris.com, firstname.lastname@example.org Somehow by the end of the week, he had everyone trained to bring him a beer from the fridge to his spot at the table, where he was usually seen fixing his photos on his laptop. email@example.com, 574-304-3821, 66662 Old Orchard Ln, Elkhart, IN, 46516 - That's Dawn Elliott's contact info, just in case. She's got lots of great advice on Western Hemisphere diving.
19: These Lemon sharks look rather happy about something..... | All sharks have electroreceptors concentrated in their heads called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These receptors detect electrical pulses emitted by potential prey. Lemon sharks are bottom dwellers but have very poor eyesight and cannot see well to find their food. However, they are equipped with extremely sensitive and accurate magnetic sensors in the nose | Adult Lemon Sharks are usually 8-10 feet long.
20: Bait Box Mayhem at Tiger Beach
22: MATT with SHARKS! | "Why's everybody looking at me?.....Ohhh" (and Matt would turn around and see the Tiger shark coming at him from behind).
24: Staci with SHARKS! | Awesome!
25: During almost every dive, I swam over to Matt to gesture wildly at him to take pictures of me with sharks. Posing-with-sharks photography is not as easy as it looks. He did a excellent job.
26: You can pretty much see how this went. I spent a lot of time on my belly shark gazing and photographing at Tiger Beach. Right on the sand was a great place to get pictures of smiling lemon sharks. | Maneuvering oneself in the water, fully dressed in scuba gear, is not as easy as it seems, hence my many awkward positions. And by the way, there were a LOT of sharks down there. Sometimes they bumped into us.
27: Looks like I nearly lost a fin!
28: Tiger Beach Sharks
30: Also seen at Tiger Beach ....
32: Right in the midst of the shark action, this Loggerhead Turtle swam through, completely uninterested in us or the sharks. | Those little fish by the shark's nose are called pilot fish. I have no idea why they don't get eaten.
33: Our boat, from beneath
34: I've never seen anyone catch fish so fast. As soon as the line was in the water, | Capt. Scott lifted out a fish. Again and again. | Oh, the smell of shark bait! | There were too many sharks to count.
35: The yellow tails are good to eat; the gray jacks are good for shark bait. | Hi, there!
36: Dolphins | at night | Our first dolphin encounter in the evening daylight was quite quick. Captain Scott said that the dolphins were bottle-nosed rather than spotted, and the spotted dolphins are much more friendly than the bottle nosed dolphins. | So CLOSE
37: Later that night we found some spotted dolphins, and they really were friendly and playful. I lost count of how many times they swam around me, so close, but not quite close enough to touch. We played a spinning game a few times. They are SO FAST. Gail told me that they love it when she sings to them. She told me to sing right through my snorkel, so I did, It might have even worked. As soon as the boat motor started, all the dolphins headed to the front of the boat. They rode the wake of the boat for a long time, all 7 of them. They rode the boat's wake and darted off to catch fish and come back. | I leaned over the front of the boat (like Matt is pictured) with Dawn for a while, watching the dolphins jump out and catch flying fish, then swim right back to the boat's wake. | The spotted dolphins almost always show up at night, and they stay until the boat leaves. They know what's coming, easy prey flying fish | These gray pictures don't do justice to the show. I felt privileged to watch it. | I can't believe how FAST they are, especially when they'd go catch a fish and then catch right back up to the boat, like it | wasn't even moving. | and a free ride. | The dolphins get more spots as they age. | The ones without spots | are | bab- ies. | We could hear lot of squeaks and clicks from the | dolphins.
38: Dolphin Dream Encounters
42: Dolphin Chasers These were taken by Christopher. If you look closely at the photo in the upper right hand corner on the next page, that person in the background, between the two dolphins, is me. | They don't bait the dolphins. We rode around for quite a while to find them. | There's no keeping up with the dolphins. They are super fast. They swam near us because they wanted to. | You can see the friendliness and curiosity and playfulness in their faces.
46: Mountains Reef April 12, 2011 | They brought us here twice in the morning, since it was our deepest dive site (80 feet).
47: Mountain Reef April 13, 2011
48: Lion Fish in the Bahamas, Mountains Reef
49: Since Lion Fish have no natural predator in the Caribbean, and they lay eggs by the thousands and eat everything, they are a problem to the reef ecosystem. But that makes them no less bizarre and beautiful to see.
50: Reef Sharks at Mountains Reef After spending so long at Tiger Beach where there's only sand and an old boat chain with a few creatures on it, it was nice to dive here at a reef and see more sea life than just sharks. This was our first encounter with reef sharks, who are neither aggressive nor photogenic. While Tiger Beach was only a 20 foot dive, here we got down to 80 feet. But safety stops were never boring with that bait crate hanging 20 feet from the boat..
51: To the left is the "Dutch contingency," who were usually laughing loud and chattering in Dutch. I can still hear hyper Ron yelling "Sharky, Chucky, or Jacque-ey," -we could never quite tell for sure. I think his friend's name was actually Jackie. Christopher told a lot of stories, and they were funny. (Walt talked a lot too; he was not funny.) "Christopher, What do you do?" He's now a journalist/travel agent/hotel representative/ amateur photographer, and he's a former college English teacher. He's French/British and spent some years living in S. Africa. Mike is retired; he travels and dives. He's been on the Dolphin Dream 5 times, and his next stop is the sardine run in S. Africa. Dawn has taken many dive trips and lives in Indiana. Madison, aka "Pip" (pirate/hippie parents) and her dad Ernst are from Australia. Madison already works for Sea Shepherds and plans to join one of their ships as soon as she turns 18. Dawn is an avid fan of Sea Shepherds; they find illegal poachers and sink the boats. Captain Scott is married to Gail's sister, and they have a 5-year-old named Holly. Though they'd planned to raise Holly on the boat, it just hasn't worked out that way. But Holly can swim, and she'll be on the boat more this summer, swimming with the dolphins. The bottom 4 pictures are of Travis spearing lion fish, a non native species of fish that breeds like crazy and threatens other marine life in the Bahamas. Cutting off their spines removes their poison, so we ate them for lunch (everyone but Madison). | Nick, Mirjam, Ad | Jackie, Ronald | Staci & Matt | Christopher | Mike, Dawn | Madison, "Pip," & Ernst | Walt | Captain Scott
52: Sugar Wreck | at 20 feet
54: This lobster was moving on a mission, and he wasn't going to let any diver stand in his way.
55: He just kept steadily crawling forward, waving those tentacles wildly at us. The video is awesome. | This stingray let me catch up to him, and I shot a great video of him. | Here I am chasing the wildlife. | Sugar Wreck
56: No land in sight! Those little white birds must be able to fly a LONG way. I loved that upper deck. It was a beautiful place to relax. "I am on the boat!"
57: One day Capt. Scott accidentally dropped the "pin" into the ocean; it's used to wind the rope to pull up the anchor. He sent Connor, then Travis, down in the water to look for it. While Connor was down there, Capt. Scott lowered a hammer on a rope, to indicate where the pin fell. Connor had no idea why Capt. Scott was | lowering a hammer then, so Connor, who was already irritated, sent his | manipulated dive glove back up the rope, with the middle finger inflated/up. (I think he was kind of proud of that move.) So when Connor came up empty-handed, Travis went down to look for the pin, and miraculously, he found it, on/in the reef, in the dark! Since we were preparing for a night dive anyways, while Travis was down there and we were eating dinner, we | asked Connor what it looked like, so we could look for it, too. "Is it shiny?" Connor's response was classic: | "Is anything on this boat shiny?" (-only the stair handrails, polished often by everyone's hands.) We saw the "pin," and it was only about 8 inches long, and of course, rusty. God must've helped Travis find that thing. | There was a little conflict between Capt. Scott and the crew boys, with the capt. telling them that they were "diving too much." But the guests liked having them in the water; it made for a more exciting shark show when the boys were hand-feeding the sharks. Luckily the boys joined us diving often. | I really liked the relaxed atmosphere on the boat. I never had to set an alarm. Most days, they just parked the boat and said "The pool is open!" and we dove whenever we felt like it. It was the most comfortable and laid-back diving I've ever experienced.
58: Up close with a conch | Hanging with a Hogfish | Sea Slugs | Sugar Wreck at Night
59: We spent some time following a few shy Porcupine Puffer Fish. They are so cute. | Hi, there! | They have pretty eyes and smiley mouths.
60: Fish | Tales | Reef
61: Fish Tales Reef
62: Trigger Fish, Grouper, & Eels at Fish Tales Reef | Amidst the chaos of divers, the bait box, sharks, grouper, and every marine creature imaginable trying to get a piece of food, this eel stuck its head out of its reef like, "Whoa, what's everybody doing here,? This is my reef!"
63: Everybody comes out for the bait box! | I'd be busy watching sharks when suddenly a beautiful Grouper would swim right in my face, sometimes bumping into me.
64: Lion Fish
65: Fish Tales Reef
67: Fish Tales at Night We stayed here at Fish Tales Reef for our last day and a half. I did 7 dives here, and the night dive was the least impressive. It is, however, impressive to admit that we dove into this water at night, in spite of those visible shark fins circling the boat. I'm sure we were swimming with many more sharks than we could see. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
68: Lots of Reef Sharks | at Fish Tales Reef
70: More Reef Sharks | Ready or not, Here we come! | I never zoomed the camera. The sharks really were this close.
71: Everybody knows | where the bait box is. | Fish Tales Reef
72: "Anybody see the nurse shark? -Just look for the bait box!" While all the other sharks circled and hovered over and around the box, the nurse shark basically attached herself to the box. "I don't know what you other dumb sharks are doing, but I'm getting some food right here." Her single minded focus on the box was funny to watch. They told us that nurse sharks eat a lot of crustaceans and coral, and their mouths are on the front of their heads rather than under them, making them more adept at extracting fish from the box. Nurse sharks seem to be pretty gentle with humans. I swam closely along side of one (when the box moved, of course). And notice Travis to the right, petting the nurse shark like a dog. He did that a few times. It was cute. Nurse sharks can reach 10-14 feet long and up to 330 pounds. The one hanging out with us was not nearly that big. Not yet, anyways. | Nurse Shark
73: Travis is petting the nurse shark. | (and watching the Tiger shark swim towards him.) | Fish Tales Reef
74: The nurse shark knew where the food was and how to get it.
75: What these photos can't capture is the mayhem of constant motion, sharks circling, swimming everywhere, over and under and around us, fast. It felt surreal. It was incredible. Who gets to experience this? | Fish Tales Reef
77: The fish in the left lower corner is a Remora, or Shark Sucker. The top of its head looks like the sole of a shoe, and that's where it attaches to a shark. Remoras don't seem to bother the sharks; they just hang on for the ride and catch stray food particles when the sharks eat. | Lemon Sharks at Fish Tales Reef
78: These Tiger sharks were not used to people like Smiley. "They were hunting," Connor said. Once I had to lift myself up and push a shark's head away from me. Connor told us to maintain eye contact and stand our ground with the Tigers, because we're not going to out-swim them. | Tiger sharks at Fish Tales Reef | Tiger Sharks are actually very cautious. Connor said, "There's a reason they get that big." Their caution helps keep them alive. Their lifespan is unknown, but they can live longer than 12 years and can range in size from 10-18 feet in adulthood, weighing 850-1400 lbs.
79: Most of the time, the sharks appeared to be gliding along lazily. Connor told us that such slowness is intentional. The sharks try to conserve as much energy as possible, until food is definitely within reach, and then they expend as much energy as needed in a speed burst to capture and devour their prey. They are known for eating anything, and are considered to be the second most dangerous sharks to humans, yet their attack rate is surprisingly low.
80: To the right is "Shark Wrangling" at Fish Tales Reef. They tied a giant fish head to a rope and dangled it in the water off the back of the boat. (No divers were currently in the water.) And then we sat and watched the show. Picture 8 or so of us kneeling on the back of the boat, most with their huge cameras, some holding their cameras underwater. I wasn't that brave, to stick my hand and camera underwater, especially after watching the Tiger shark bite the boat and the ladder several times. One time the Tiger came at the bait so aggressively that a reef shark who was in the way actually jumped completely out of the water. Connor was quite excited; he said that was the first time he'd ever seen a shark "breach." He said that as "wrangling's" go, we saw a good one. The fight lasted quite a while before the Tiger pulled the bait off the rope. | One afternoon at Fish Tales Reef during the "shark circle time" with Connor, those of us on one side of the | The visibility only allowed us to see the shark's outline as it swam by, but I could clearly see that huge hammer-head, twisting back and forth. | circle caught a few-second view of a Great Hammerhead Shark.
81: Shark Wrangling
83: More photos by Christopher
84: Also seen at Fish Tales Reef... | Capt. Scott never got in the water. He said that he doesn't because he's the only licensed captain on the boat, and if caught in the water, he'd lose his license. Connor thinks that's a lame excuse, but it's not Connor's boat.
85: Goodbye Bahamas | c | This is a familiar scene - our group forming a circle around Travis or Connor and the bait box for "shark circle time." - Lots of action there!
86: On our last night on the boat, I managed to get a tour of the whole boat, even the front where the crew lives. I talked to Captain Scott a bit; the driving area is his whole room/bunk. I also overheard a conversation between Capt. Scott and Christopher the journalist. Capt. Scott said he has mixed feelings about what he does. Here he's spent 30 years making relationships with the dolphins, and now he's baiting sharks into the area, which could potentially drive the dolphins away. He only got into the shark trips to pay the bills. His passion is for the dolphins, which explains why we didn't see that much of him during our trip. I wish we could've talked more to him. He's led an interesting life, and he has kind eyes. Life on the boat does not appear easy, especially when you leave a wife and daughter at home. He calls them once a week via satellite phone. Oh, and Capt. Scott has a lot of fish and dolphin shirts. | I was quite pleased to discover on arrival that the boat was air conditioned (with big PVC pipes). Our cabin was never hot. | We had a small "leak" in the floor by the cabins; Capt Scott said that with a boat, "It's always something!" He fixed the condensation problem. | Gail told us she's "pretty much given up" on marriage and children, which is sad. | This drying system worked great! | I suggested she might meet someone on the boat. She said, "I never mix business with pleasure."
87: I never got used to the sound of the shark can crusher. | Member the squeaky sound of hyper Ron pumping air out of his camera case? | The 2 bathrooms were spacious and comfy, with no hot water limits. | Repacking - Ahh! How did it all fit in there?
88: I got a lot of future trip ideas from our fellow divers. Here are Pip's recommendations for Australia diving: Osprey & Ribbon Reefs, with Mike Ball, Spirit of Freedom, or Taka. Pelagic.firstname.lastname@example.org. The Aggressor Fleet is always good, and does trips to Cocos Islands and the Galapagos, and takes off from Costa Rica. Cocos is where there are schools of hammerheads, but it's a 36-hour boat ride to get there. Chris recommends not doing a live-aboard in the Galapagos, because there's a lot to see on land. Dive in the morning; tour in the afternoon. Silver Banks is between the Dominican Republic and Turks & Caicos. You take off from the D.R., and you can snorkel with Humpback Whales. Safaris are best in Tanzania, around the Gora-crater. Mozambique has good diving, but not safaris. The Sardine Run happens off S. Africa every mid June to mid July, but it is "hard core" and dangerous. Socooro diving on the Solmar V is a great place to see manta rays, and whales in January-March. It departs from Cabo San Lucas, and Dawn will be going there this year. Chris recommends an S-95 camera with HD video. Paul Watson, "Ocean Warrior," is the one who founded Sea Shepherds. The week sure went by fast! Ironically, the 3 photos below are all we ever actually saw of the Bahamas, other than the Bahamas water. We rode to and from the Bahamas at night. We had to stop at customs both ways, which seemed kind of silly since we never left the boat except to dive. (That's where we found out that the Dutch guy "Ad" - which sounded like "Odd" - was really named Adrian.) Capt. Scott said it was a calm week (apart from that short AM tornado that went right next to the boat, while Matt and I were sleeping). No one on our boat was ever sea sick, but after we got off the boat, Matt and I felt like we were still moving. And we were exhausted. We took a taxi to the rental car place, and then drove to Sea Spray Inn, which looks absolutely nothing like the pictures on Orbitz or Expedia. (They seriously have the wrong hotel pictured.) We were 2-3 hours early for check in, and I don't think I've ever been so glad to hear the words, "Your room is ready." We both took a nice long nap. And wow, that little hotel room sure did seem big. I wasn't so sure about basically booking 2 vacations in one, not knowing if we'd get off the boat and wish we were home or wish we had more time in Florida. Having more time in Florida turned out to be perfect. At the end of the trip, Matt and I thought this might have been the funnest vacation we've ever taken. | This is a view of the Phil Foster Bridge and intercoastal waterway, as seen from the dock of the Dolphin Dream at Riviera Beach Marina. | Somewhere in the Bahamas