Bimini is the western-most island of the Bahamas, only 80km (~50 miles) off the coast of Miami. Its the best place in the world for close encounters with the endangered great hammerhead shark.
Bimini is a quiet place, well-known to big game fisherman and Florida boat owners. During the prohibition era it was a supply point for rum-running into the south east of the USA. Ernest Hemingway also called Bimini home in the 1930s, attracted by the epic fishing tales from the island. The gulf stream runs just west of Bimini, supplying extraordinarily clear water all year round.
I came to Bimini to see the great hammerhead sharks, who call the waters just west of South Bimini home from late December to March. After fleeting glimpses of great hammerheads on earlier trips to French Polynesia and the Bahamas, I was keen to see them up close.
The great hammerhead is the largest of the hammerhead species, growing up to 6 meters (20 feet) long. The great hammerhead has been heavily fished for its enormous sickle-shaped first dorsal fin, resulting in its inclusion on the endangered species list. The hammerheads we dove with in Bimini were between 3 and 4 meters (10 to 13 feet). We typically had three to five great hammerheads at any one time, along with a half dozen nurse sharks.
Unlike most other spots around the world, the great hammerheads in Bimini come right up to divers, typically swimming just above the sand in ~5 meters (16 feet) of water. They have the tightest turning circle I’ve seen of any shark. The cephalofoil (hammer) was surprising hard when they gently bumped into my camera. The hammerheads moved gracefully and deliberately through the water, never attempting to sneak up on us (unlike bull & tiger shark behaviour). The position of their mouth relative to the cephalofoil gives you further confidence that an exploratory bite is highly unlikely to occur, even with a diver that's not paying attention. The global shark attack file (logs 5,800+ incidents over the last ~150 years) doesn’t have any conclusive deaths from hammerhead sharks (a few deaths were reported as “potentially a hammerhead or tiger shark”). After spending a week with these sharks it doesn’t surprise me that they are not responsible for any deaths.
The Bahamas is an extraordinary place for shark diving, thanks to the establishment of the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary. On this trip to Bimini we saw great hammerheads, nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and bull sharks. The Big Game Fishing Club in North Bimini has resident bull sharks that are visible below the club jetty. We had a single bull shark on the last day of diving that may have been attracted by the spearfishing from our boat. This bull shark was relatively shy and wouldn’t come close enough to be photographed. I understand bull sharks became a bit of a problem for the great hammerhead diving in Bimini late in the 2014 season. Local divers speculate the high number of bull sharks was due to US liveaboard boats chumming the water in the area 24 hours a day. Through the 2014 season the bull sharks became gradually bolder, eventually scaring away the great hammerheads and leading to a dive that required a high level of focus / alertness to ensure the safety of divers.
Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center, based out of Bimini Sands, did a great job of finding and keeping the sharks and had the right balance of experience, flexibility and safety.