Dive #158 - Rich Torkington's Dive Log
© Copyright 2010 Rich Torkington Mesa, Arizona

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Bottom Time to Date:


Dive Info:

Dive Start:

Bottom Time:
58 minutes

Maximum Depth:
57 feet

Safety Stop:
3 minutes

Beginning Air:
3000 psi

Ending Air:
1200 psi

Weather Conditions:
Sunny 83°F

Surface Conditions:

Surface Water Temperature:

Bottom Water Temperature:

60+ feet
* * * *½
Oct. 14,
Linda and Janel
Easy, big fella
Videograph by Rich Torkington in Bahamas 2003 
Dive Journal: We’re back from Saddle Cay in time for lunch, which quickly leads into the day’s 3rd dive. We’ve been anticipating this dive all week, because today we’re doing a shark feed dive on Amberjack Reef. 42090009 Amberjack Reef 24 25.61 76 40.52

I’ve never done a shark dive and I have mixed feelings about them. I tend to agree with the critics that say feeding the sharks while diving may create an association for the sharks between divers and food. However, I also sense the appeal of the dive itself, and certainly many many divers have participated.

Before the dive, I kid around to Linda that, if the boat has us sign a special waiver about the dangers of a shark dive, that would catalyze me not to go. Sure enough, following Gavin’s dive briefing, he produces little legal documents that we all have to sign. Gavin tells us that we’ll almost surely see Carribean reef sharks here, and that they also saw a bull shark at this site a few weeks ago. Gavin says, “You’ll know there is a bull shark in the water if all the crew is suddenly out of the water.”

While we all attend the briefing, John decides that this dive is not for him. Well, on paper I have mixed feelings about the dive, but here on the boat, it’s a simpler decision for me. Let’s go – it is a neat opportunity. Linda and Janel feel the same way.

As we approach the mooring site, the three of us are out back on the dive deck preparing our gear, and we immediately see a couple sharks anticipate the arrival of the boat, and start circling beneath. We suit up, and then it’s seemingly a dare-you situation to see who gets in the water first. It is unusual that I am one of the first to be ready, and I descend to the platform level. Holding onto weight belt, mask and reg, I begin my giant stride, but suddenly the big silhouette of a shark emerges directly in front me from beneath the hull, and I am shocked backward in surprise. Gathering my nerves, I choose my spot and am in the water!

What a memorable dive!
Videograph by Rich Torkington in Bahamas 2003 
I quickly survey the waters and see at least three reef sharks circling the boat several feet below the surface. I want to submerge, but I also want to wait for Linda and Janel to enter, so rather than look, I just float with my mask out of water and play a denial game. Other divers are soon in the water, and so at least I feel my odds are getting better.

Once we’re ready, we submerge and swim toward the mooring line to a mounded coral head that is surrounded by a ring of other coral heads. Each diver chooses a spot on the sandy floor around the central mound, and we sit calmly but in anticipation for a few minutes. The entire diving crew is apparently in the water for this dive.

Twelve or more Caribbean reef sharks have shown up already and they’re circling and weaving all around, perhaps 10 feet over our heads. Another half dozen huge black groupers are zooming around as well. In between these lunker fish are hundreds of yellowtail snappers.

Mark from Australia finally shows up on the surface carrying a rope. He submerges perhaps 8 feet down from the boat, and finally the shark bait hits the water. It is a big cube of fish pieces, frozen solid into a “chum-sicle” probably 18 inches on each side. The cube is firmly attached to the rope. On the other end is a strong float that keeps the bait relatively fixed in mid-water.

Mark quickly submerges to tie his end of the rope to the top of the central coral mound, while the fish react immediately. There seems to be an electric current surge through the clouds of fish as they lurch suddenly towards the food. The sharks attack vigorously at first, not all at once, but in a rapid order. The bigger pieces that are thrown off go to the lucky nearby groupers, and all the smaller debris is ravenously assaulted by the swarming snappers.

We all settle down to watch. It is fascinating to see the sharks take their turns, each one approaching the bait from underneath, setting its teeth into the frozen cube, then quickly shaking its head back and forth trying to free up a chunk, while the other smaller fish crowd around. I soon notice that the crew is not on the sand floor, but they are up even with the sharks watching and shooting pictures, and so, with video running I’m soon up even with the action and circling the chum ball to get the best lighting.

This grouper made off with the big prize
Videograph by Rich Torkington in Bahamas 2003 
As the minutes wear on, the action is less frenetic, and it actually gets even more interesting to watch. The sharks seemingly engage in an orchestrated dance, swimming an orderly course around the bait each taking their turns at it. Their circular course increases in diameter as the feeding continues, and as a result the sharks begin passing much closer to us divers.

Some 15 minutes after the bait arrived, yet another shark rips at the cube and manages to dislodge the entire remaining piece from the rope. It floats for less than a second in mid-water before a big black grouper opens his mouth up ridiculously wide and sucks in the entire mass, still frozen. He tries to close his enormous lips but the piece is so large he can’t. We watch amused as he quickly and wisely flees the scene, trying in vain to wolf down the gigantic prize.

Even then, the sharks continue their weaving dance around the site, and they approach closer and closer to the divers, which simply makes for great photography and videography. It is interesting and perhaps a little irrational that after being so close in the water with these creatures for the first half of the dive, they no longer seem to pose any danger. It is seemingly apparent that the sharks (these ones anyway) just do not see divers as food.

Eventually the crowd of divers disperses but a number stays to play with the lingering feeders. The huge black groupers are a treat to see, since they’re more often in very deep waters. Some of the divers look beneath the bait rope for any sharks’ teeth that might have fallen out, but I think none are found.

Soon enough it is time to return to the boat. Even the scene under the boat is most interesting. It is moored in about 55’ of water, and in its shimmering shadow the black groupers like to linger near the bottom. Further up there are schools of many dozens of horse-eye jacks, a very cool and well-designed species I think. And while I’m doing my safety stop, I get closely buzzed by a school of yellow jacks, the first time I’ve seen this species.

A truly memorable dive.
Mares Avanti Quattro
U S Divers Matrix
80 ft3 Al
SeaQuest Spectrum 4
Dive Type:
Body of Water:
Caribbean Sea
U S Divers
2mm shorty
Spectrum XR2
plus Oceanic
Slimline octopus
10 lb
Water Type:
Video Equipment:
Sony DCR-TRV11 digital handycam in Top Dawg housing