Standing on the swim step, trying to time my entry with a gap in the dozen or more lemon sharks circling directly below me was a bit daunting the first go around. Of course, the sharks knew this routine well and skillfully avoided my clumsy splash into the water. The reward waiting beneath the surface was an assemblage of sharks that cannot be collectively encountered anywhere else in the world.
Like a fashion model up on the catwalk, great hammerhead sharks sashay into one’s field of vision, and, if they were human, you would probably say they have just “made an entrance”. Their strange mallet-like head, robust body girth and tall sickle-shaped dorsal fin make them well-nigh instantly recognisable, and most other sharks in the immediate area spot that too and give them a wide berth.
A fifty-minute flight southeast from the bustle, cruise ships and tourist-centric Nassau, lies the sleepy island of San Salvador. Twelve miles long and five miles wide, she is the tip of an underwater mountain rising from 5,000 metres below (15,000 feet) surrounded by picture-postcard, crystal-clear, blue seas.
First described in 1837 by the German naturalist Eduard Rüppell, the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) is the largest of the hammerhead shark family and can reach a length of over 6m (20ft), although some specimens have been seen to be much larger than this. However, with overfishing, the great hammerhead is usually observed to be much smaller than this.
Jim Abernethy, owner and operator of Scuba Adventures, was the dive operator who showed all of the others that sharks are peaceful animals who want nothing to do with humans as a food source.
He spends most of his time with wild sharks during dives from his liveaboard ship, The Shear Water, at remote sites in the vicinity of the Bahamas, and is on land for only about 40 days a year.