Bahamas Trip Report

May, 2007

Well, another dolphin trip is over and I'm sitting here on the plane doing something I have never been able to do in the past--look at my pictures! Ever since I switched to digital last year I have enjoyed the instant feedback that digital gives me. No waiting to look at my shots! But it has spawned a new phrase I like to expound: "Digital is wonderful because you don't have to wait to be disappointed in your pictures." It's true. Astonishingly, you can still take amazingly bad photographs with a digital camera, especially when your subject is a Spotted dolphin going about 30 MPH past your head while you are floundering in the water with a snorkel and a few other people in close proximity doing the same thing! But I guess I should start at the beginning.

Our intrepid group met at the Dolphin Dream in West Palm Beach Florida, coming from all over the country (although a good percentage came from the Boston area) and we settled in for lunch at the Tiki Restaurant at the marina. The boat would not leave until well after dinner. We had some sandwiches and got to know each other. Alice and Michelle were returning veterans, with this being their third trip to visit the dolphins. Most of the rest of the group were "dolphin virgins" and had never enjoyed the excitement of swimming with wild dolphins. I filled everyone in on the drill, as well as a photographic assignment I had to photograph the "bandana game" for a magazine. More on that later.

So we boarded the boat and co-captain Andy gave us a safety and dive briefing, explaining the protocol they use to get divers on and off the boat with the dolphins, etc. He also told us that the weather had been, and continued to be forecast to be somewhat rough in the "dolphin grounds" out on White Sand Ridge. We all hoped for the best.

We left the dock around 9:30 PM and headed east, making the crossing over the Gulf stream into the wind. It was definitely one of the rougher crossings I have made, but didn't seem that bad, due to the amazing stability of the Dolphin Dream. I can only imagine what I would have been like on the old boat!

The next morning we arrived in West End, Grand Bahama and went through customs quickly. We were done with breakfast and on our way by 9 AM, which I think is some kind of record. Then the bad news…the wind was so strong that we probably would not attempt dolphins. But Captains Scott and Andy let us in on the good news. They had TWO freezers full of chum. He suggested that we might do an afternoon of Tiger sharks at Tiger Wreck. All but two of the guests on the trip (our stalwart dolphinites) cheered in applause. Bob was heard to say that it's gotta be awesome when the BACK-UP plan is to dive with Tiger sharks!

So we headed over to "Tiger wreck," threw some chum in the water, and waited. I warned everyone that Tigers are not a guarantee and we may not get any with only one afternoon devoted to the task. Before I had finished my first Butterfingers bar, Andy yelled "SHARK!!!" from the back deck. We all raced back there, and swimming below the swim step was a solitary Tiger shark, A big one. Rather than throw everyone in the water and scare it away, we waited a while for a few more sharks to show up. Within a half hour we had a couple Lemons too, so Todd decided to get in and snorkel around. The sharks didn't seem too skittish, so we started putting divers in the water. I waited until a little later to go in, giving the "Tiger noobs" a chance to have some action before I got in there and started photographing them. Soon I couldn't stand it any longer, grabbed my camera and headed down for some shots.

Having just returned from a very successful Tiger shark trip on this very same boat only two months before, I didn't really NEED more Tiger shark pictures, but honestly, can you ever have too many pictures of Tiger sharks? I think not. Besides, I needed some better extreme close-ups. I mounted up a 16 mm fisheye and hit the water. The viz was very good and the sharks abundant. Unlike March, we only had about 4 Lemons, which was nice. Too many Lemons get in the way of the Tigers and steal all the bait. At one point we had three Tigers and 4 Lemons, a very good mix! One of the Tigers was large, perhaps 10 feet long and as big around as a 55 gallon drum. We also had a tiny little one, the smallest I have ever seen, perhaps only 3 feet long. It had the "baby spots" (rather than Tiger stripes) which are typical of a juvenile. Very cute! The third one was a medium-sized shark, perhaps 8 feet long. The most aggressive one was the little one. Feisty! I was glad that even our hard-core dolphinites did a dive with the Tiger sharks. It really is a once in a lifetime experience and worth doing, even if sharks aren't your thing.

Conditions at Tiger Wreck are fairly protected, so we spent the night there. The next day we headed out to White Sand Ridge and found some dolphins. I must admit that my memory gets a little fuzzy here. I wasn't taking notes. We spent a bunch of days swimming with the Spotted dolphins and like any trip, we had pods that were playful and pods that weren't. On a couple of mornings we spent 3 hours in the water almost non-stop, with the dolphins working at trying to, at a minimum, wear us out, if not to totally drown us. Having a digital camera with a nearly endless supply of film was wonderful. Gone are the days of swimming back and forth from the dolphins to the boat to change cameras or film. And yes, I deleted a lot of lousy shots! But I got some nice ones too.

Just about everyone had brought bandanas for the bandana game except me…which is sort of ironic since I was the one encouraging everyone to bring them, and I bought a whole pile of them. Unfortunately I managed to forget them. D'oh! It turned out that Barry and Bobbie brought the coolest bandanas of them all: squares of bright orange fabric used to make hunters' clothing. Man, that stuff stands out in the pictures! Thanks B&B, great idea! I had a bunch of shots in my mind's eye that I wanted for the story and over the course of the week, especially on the last day, I managed to nail most of them. I even managed to drag Capt. Scott into the water for some swim time.

We had some Bottlenosed dolphins that hung out for a while on one of the afternoons, adding to the fun. But our species diversity really started climbing on the afternoon we decided to skip the dolphin grounds and do a few dives.

We headed over to Muriel's Garden, a reef known for Caribbean reef sharks, and tossed some chum in the water. We jumped into the water, sank down to 70 feet and started playing with the one reef shark that showed up. (Normally we get a dozen or more….but where were they?) Then out of the blue came a big Great Hammerhead. It zoomed in, grabbed a piece of fish, made a lap around the divers and took off. Although it really didn't come right into prime photo-range, I got a few shots to prove we saw it. Let's see, Tigers, Lemons, Reef shark and hammerhead…..that's 4 species of sharks on a dolphin trip. Not bad!

Next we headed off to the Sugar Wreck, one of my favorite dives in the Bahamas. It's shallow, colorful and full of fish, turtles and stingrays. And on this particular dive we found a pair of huge Nurse sharks. Make that 5 species of sharks for the trip! I spent some time photographing divers (mostly Julia) for some diver stock photos, but also managed to get some decent turtle shots.

That night, we dove the wreck again, and the highlight of the dive was an octopus that Joy found and pointed out to me. It was either very cooperative, or in shock from the first blinding flash of my strobes, but it allowed me to shoot quite a few frames before vanishing into a hole to escape.

Uncharacteristically, we had one afternoon where we couldn't find any cooperative dolphins, so we lounged around watching movies and tweaking pictures on our laptops. I think Dave might have even taken a nap or two. I actually enjoyed a little down time. Dolphins are hard work to photograph!

Alas the end of the trip came too soon and we had to start packing up to head home. Once again I had made some new friends, seen some old friends, and spent a week doing something that very few people will ever get to do. In spite of some challenging weather, a crab in Barry's ear (!) and a few minor injuries getting onto the boat in rough water, we had an outstanding trip full of incredible animal interactions. It makes it worth the long flights, hauling luggage through airports, and swallowing volumes of seawater through a snorkel. The only bad part is that I won't be going on next year's dolphin trip. My wife Christine gets to lead the trip next year, and I have to stay home with the kids! If you want to go, sign up now, because it will fill up fast!


If you want to read a much more detailed trip report, check out Bobbie's Dolphin trip Blog!

A dolphin hunting in the sand.

Tiny cave full of silversides at Muriel's Garden.

Julia exploring the Sugar Wreck.

Todd strikes a curious pose while photographing a dolphin with a bandana.

"Ha ha! Try to get the bandana from me!"

There are still some spots left on next year's dolphin trip if you want to join us!

A Tiger shark investigates bait tube. That tube is 8" in diameter!

Yum! Milk crates!

Julia getting in there like a pro photog!

Dave dwarfed by the goliath Tiger shark which is coming for me!

A Lemon shark chows down on some fish!

"Hey, get that camera out of my face before I eat your dome port!"

David: "Please don't eat my Force Fin...I only brought one pair!"

Which way is up? Who cares, TAKE THE PICTURE!

Julia petting the Tiger...caught on film. OK not

Here comes the fun!

Playing the
Bandana Game.

Dolphins pushing each other out of the way to get a look at the human who is drowning for a picture...

Yes, we saw a Great Hammerhead at Muriel's Garden..check out the size of the dorsal fin!

The Sugar Wreck

Alice following a Loggerhead sea turtle on the Sugar wreck.

Joy's octopus at night on the Sugar Wreck.

Audrey is in pursuit of the dolphin!

Captain Scott playing with the dolphins.

Alice is making the hand-off. This dolphin grabbed the bandana and took off!

Andy demonstrates the best use of a scooter...for getting the bandanas back!

Yum! Bright orange cloth!

Spotted dolphin mother and calf.

Our group after a week at sea!

  Home | Photography | Assignment | Publishing | Video | Dive Adventures | CV | Contact | Site Index

Last Update 6/2/07