When most people think of sharks, they think of species like the great white shark, tiger shark, and bull shark. These are known as requiem sharks and have that classic shark appearance. However, there a numerous species of shark that look very different from requiem sharks including the nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). These are very common sharks in the Caribbean and often encountered by new divers.
The head is broad with tiny eyes and has two barbels (whisker-like appendages) that are used in the search of food. Their teeth are small and designed for crushing as part of their diet includes eating shrimp, crab, and lobster. They are nocturnal and during the day they are often seen laying under ledges but are also seen in the open on the sand.
They are a fairly large shark and can reach over 3 meters or about 10 feet although most are much smaller. They can tip the scales between 90 to 115 kg (200-250 pounds). The gestation period for nurse sharks is about 6 months and generally, they have between 20-30 pups.
Although many divers see them as harmless, their mouth can produce a tremendous suction and could easily suck in fingers or a hand which they generally will not let go of. Therefore, like all sharks, they must never be touched and need to be respected.
Although we love to photograph all sharks, our favorite is the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran). Generally, it is a cautious shark and will keep its distance from scuba divers. There are 9 species of hammerhead sharks worldwide but the great hammerhead is the largest. An average adult reaches lengths of about 3.6 to 4.3 meters (12-14 feet) but can reach 6 meters (20 feet) and exceed 550kg (1,200 pounds).
Great hammerheads are newer sharks on the evolutionary scale and have developed some unusual characteristics. The unique feature of this shark is obviously the head. The “hammer” which is called a cephalofoil is full of electrical sensors. These pores called ampullae of Lorenzini aid in hunting as these sensors pick up electrical signals given off by all living creatures including humans.
As you view these photographs notice how different the shark can look depending on the angle of the photograph. On a larger shark, the cephalofoil is about a meter (3 feet) in length and the eyes are at the ends which gives it a large range of vision.
The diet of this shark is diverse. They will feed on a variety of fishes including tarpons, porcupine fish and even other sharks. As well, lobster, squid, and octopus form part of their diet. However, their favorite food is rays. Stingrays bury themselves in the sand and the great hammerhead uses its cephalofoil with its electrical sensors to detect their location.
Our first liveaboard experience was to Guadalupe Island off Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. The sea conditions were rough with waves 7-9 feet and many people were very seasick. The good news is that we handled the conditions quite well and just felt a bit nauseated. It proved to us that we could handle very adverse sea conditions. The 400 km (250 mile) trip started from Ensenada, Mexico and took about 24 hours to cross on the 33 meter (110 foot) vessel called the Sea Escape. Guadalupe Island is a volcanic island and home to some very large great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias).
The great white shark, also called the white shark, can grow extremely large with some females capable of reaching 6+ meters (20 feet). As the females mature their girth increases considerably for every foot of growth. It was hard to imagine a 1900 kg (4,000 pounds) great white shark swimming a meter or two away from us and we had big expectations. Sadly, the largest shark we experienced was about 4 meters (12-13 feet). Certainly, not a monster female but a very large shark none the less.
Our first experience with great white sharks was in South Africa but the water was not very clear (green water) so it was difficult to get good pictures. As our photographs show, Guadalupe is a great place to photograph these majestic creatures. We will certainly do Guadalupe island again with hopes of photographing a massive female.
Our previous posts on the Revillagigedo Archipelago, also called the Socorro islands, have included the giant mantas(Manta birostris), whitetip reef sharks(Triaenodon obesus), and silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis). Although Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) are fairly common especially at Roca Partida, we did not have any encounters with them there. However, on one dive we did come across a few juveniles at Socorro island and this gave us an opportunity to photograph this species.
Older sharks of all species have very scarred bodies which are simply a result of surviving in a dangerous ocean environment. However, these juvenile Galapagos sharks, which were about a meter (2-3 feet) in length, had skin with very few blemishes. Adult Galapagos sharks can reach 3 meters (9-10 feet) in length.
The silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) gets its name from the smooth texture and silky look of its skin especially when it is young. These sharks can grow to 2.5 meters (8 feet) in length and are very abundant in the Revillagigedo Archipelago. Generally referred to as the Socorro Islands, these volcanic islands lie approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
Although we encountered scalloped hammerheads, tigers, Galapagos, whitetip reef, and silvertip sharks the most numerous were the silky sharks. At dusk, as the sun was setting, a few of us slipped into the water behind the boat in an attempt to photograph these sharks with the sun’s rays penetrating behind them to give a visually stunning look. Thank you to Andy Murch of Big Fish Expeditions for showing us this technique as we are relatively new to underwater photography.
The Revillagigedo Archipelago lies approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. These Pacific islands are more commonly referred to as the Socorro islands. Aboard the Southern Sport, we dove 3 of the 4 islands (Roca Partida, San Benedicto, and Socorro). The whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) is common here.
The whitetip reef shark rarely exceeds 1.6 meters (5 feet). It is nocturnal and rests during the day under ledges and caves. At Roca Partida, we observed many groups of whitetip reef sharks congregating in groups of 3 to 15 on the ledges. By approaching them slowly we were able to capture this behavior.
These sharks hunt at night and eat mainly crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp as well as bony fishes. They tend to hunt in groups. During the day, it was interesting to observe many large lobsters out in the open just a few feet away from the whitetip reef sharks. Apparently, the lobsters know that they are safe from these sharks during the day.
In South Africa we were supposed to see tiger sharks but they eluded us. In Mozambique we were supposed to see tiger sharks but once again we didn’t see any. Finding a specific shark species around the world is hardly guaranteed as these are wild animals that swim the oceans. However, we were told that if you want to see tiger sharks then you need to go to the world famous “Tiger Beach” to have the highest probability of seeing them. So here we are and finally we have seen tiger sharks!
Tiger sharks are big sharks. They are generally between 10-14 feet in length and weigh between 850- 1400 pounds. We encountered 8 different tiger sharks and two were in the 14 foot range. Being a few feet from them makes you realize just how big they are and how insignificant you are. Truly amazing creatures and a privilege to share the ocean with them!
Tiger sharks are intelligent and it is important to maintain eye contact with them. As long as they knew that you were watching them they would keep back about 10 feet or more. But take your eyes off them and they will get close and personal with you. They had this habit of trying to sneak up from behind so we needed to constantly be looking over our shoulders for them. A few times we had to bump them off with our cameras as they got a little too friendly. Perhaps not for most people, but it is very cool and surreal to be face to face with a 1400 pound tiger shark! You can’t help wonder what they are thinking as they swim by and stare you down.