This year’s Tiger Beach Expedition started with calm clear seas and plentiful sharks but we were forewarned that a storm might lock us out of the best sites towards the end of the week so we didn’t waste a single dive while the weather held!
We spent our first day at Tiger Beach itself photographing the abundant lemon sharks that swarmed the back of the Dolphin Dream from the moment we arrived.
When the sun slipped too low for good in-water encounters, the guests crowded onto the back deck to try their hand at lemon snaps (over/unders of lemon sharks at the surface). To capture the action from a different perspective, I slipped in with the lemons and shot the scene from within their ranks. Although I was repeatedly bumped and jostled by the sharks as they swam towards the bait, none of them showed any aggression except towards the free fish that the captain dangled from a (hook free) fishing line.
It was a lot of fun and resulted in some interesting images!
The next morning we sailed over to Fish Tales, a slightly deeper dive site just a km away from Tiger Beach. After a quick dive on the reef with a school of about two dozen Caribbean reef sharks, the first tiger showed up.
We swam to an area of sea grass and conducted two 90 minute dives with a tiger that is nicknamed Smiley because of the way her jaw gapes on one side, probably as a result of a run in with a fisherman.
Conditions were great. The visibility was the best I have ever seen it and Smiley could not have been more accommodating, swimming from one diver to the next, posing for images at every turn. While Smiley strutted back and forth, another tiger arrived and made sporadic passes but never quite plucked up the courage to come in close.
Before long, we had Caribbean reefs sharks, lemon sharks, tiger sharks and nurse sharks all cruising over the sandy substrate or swimming among the adjacent coral heads.
As predicted, on day three the winds started to climb so we anchored on the leeward side of Tiger Beach. I wondered if we would have any luck finding sharks but within minutes, the lemons had made their way over to our new location. We slipped in for two dives and managed to attract a tiger, a nurse and plenty of beefy lemon sharks but the visibility was far from ideal.
By late afternoon the captain was keen to run for cover so we headed further over the bank and anchored where the waves could barely reach us.
Morale remained pretty good on Day Four even though we spent the first half of the day watching movies in the spacious salon of the Dolphin Dream. By mid afternoon the wind finally abated and we poked our nose out to sea again. Back at Fish Tales, the water was surprisingly clear considering that a storm had just barreled through.
On our first drop, two tigers (including Smiley) immediately came over to meet us. It was a great, late start to the day.
By the end of the second dive we had accumulated four 10-12ft long tigers, five or six lemon sharks, a few nurses and countless Caribbean reef sharks overhead. A dive not soon to be forgotten!
Back onboard, while the other guests reviewed their images and joked about their close encounters, I captured a few final frames of the dying sun ‘Tiger Beach style’.
When we arrived at Fish Tales on our fifth and final day, the tigers were waiting! By the end of our second dive, we were surrounded by five tiger sharks, perhaps a dozen nurse and lemon sharks and scores of reef sharks. It was dizzying keeping an eye on 5 tigers at once but it was an amazing experience and the photographic opportunities were world class!
After a third and final dive in the whirlwind of sharks we climbed back on deck for a final crack at some ‘lemon and tiger snaps’ and then set a course back to West Palm Beach. It was a great trip with a really great group but that is exactly what I have come to expect at Tiger Beach!