Shallow-Water Tiger Sharks

Tagging tiger sharks in the shallows of Grand Bahama Island.

August 21, 2012
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Does this guy look like a fisherman, or what? Meet Colin Rose, a longtime Bahamian angler, conservationist, multiple IGFA **world-record holder and owner of **OBS Marine in Freeport, Grand Bahama. Rose also owns boat manufacturer Freeport Skiff, and as he stood aboard one of his 24-foot center-console models, he began preparing a tagging stick for our adventure ahead. Mike Mazur
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Joining Colin and me on this trip was Adrian Gray (left), the publications director at IGFA. Adrian’s an excellent angler and a fantastic photographer, and he was excited for what lay ahead. But what exactly is that he was handing to Colin? Mike Mazur
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Why, a frozen bucket of yellowfin tuna carcasses, of course! By now, you probably know what we were up to in Freeport. We were in search of toothy critters — and we soon headed out the pass and into the Bahamas ever-emerald waters. Mike Mazur
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When we reached our destination in about 8 feet of water north of Grand Bahama, Colin began thawing out one of the tuna buckets, mashing the smaller pieces of fish with a wooden stick. Soon, he was… Mike Mazur
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…dumping gallons of blood, guts, flesh and bones into the aqua waters. Admittedly, at this point, I couldn’t help but think of Chief Brody and Capt. Quint from the film Jaws! Then, Colin began… Mike Mazur
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…preparing large chunks of tuna, fastening them onto hook-less rigs on stout poles. But what was all this for? Mike Mazur
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Sharks, of course! The fishy waters of the Bahamas are chock full of many different species of sharks (and, thankfully, they are all protected from harvest these days.). But, while many varieties swim here, we encountered only one species during our entire trip. Adrian Gray
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As the tide carried the chum scent across the shallow waters, more and more of these sharks began to show. They had dark, chocolate-colored backs and pure white undersides — and they grew increasingly aggressive as Colin lured them to the surface…. Mike Mazur
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…and even above the surface! Recognize the species yet? If you know your sharks, you’ll certainly recognize this species by the shape of its teeth. Still not sure? Take a look at this… Mike Mazur
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…shot. Those serrated-edged cutting tools belong to only one species of shark, and the… Adrian Gray
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…splotched back visible on this particular fish is a dead giveaway. Why, it’s a…. Mike Mazur
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….tiger shark, of course, one of the most beautiful creatures in the sea and one of the most deadly. They’re also incredibly powerful, as our host Colin… Mike Mazur
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….found out on the first day. A shark had shaken him so hard while he tried to hold its tail by the boat, he tore a muscle in his left shoulder. But he was back on the scene the next morning, manning the feeding rod with his arm in a sling. Talk about a tough guy! Mike Mazur
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For safety, we fastened Colin to the boat with heavy-duty rope. He was not fishing for these animals, of course, only drawing them up to the surface with hookless chunks of tuna and feeding them. Mike Mazur
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And here comes another one! The number of tiger sharks we brought around the boat was staggering at times. At one point, we counted seven or eight. They all ranged from 100 pounds to about 350, with the big ones pushing 10 feet in length. They were so close, they often bumped the side of the boat – and (with extreme care) you could reach down and pat them on the back of the head. But you had to be very careful… Mike Mazur
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…as this is what we were dealing with! Here’s a nice tiger that was just clamping down on a tuna tail! Believe it or not, these sharks actually don’t show their teeth that often. Most times, they’re retracted, even when feeding. But every now and again, the jaws thrust downward, the gills flare out, the head expands and the teeth show full! This was such a moment. Mike Mazur
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The eyes of these sharks almost always are protected when they’re feeding. In fact, sometimes, the tigers would become disoriented when snapping at food at the surface. This one thought the tuna was still in front of him as he continued to chomp! Mike Mazur
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We also learned during our trip that tigers are indeed attracted to the electrical currents of an outboard’s lower unit. While no sharks actually bit the engines on our boat, many of them closely investigated the lower units. Mike Mazur
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Another toothy critter visited our chum slick, and Adrian hooked into it! But this was no shark. This 20-pound barracuda gave Adrian a nice tussle on a light spinning rod and, amazingly, the five tiger sharks that circled the boat didn’t even touch it as we brought the cuda aboard for a picture. Mike Mazur
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Adrian was at his best with the underwater camera and housing, however. With the sharks so close to the boat, he was able to get a fish-eye view of a hungry tiger coming at him. Here’s what it looked like… Mike Mazur
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…from Adrian’s perspective! Open wide! Adrian Gray
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Adrian captured some amazing photos, the best of which we’re holding for a feature on the species scheduled to run in a summer issue of Sport Fishing. This particular shark was angling up… Adrian Gray
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…and reaching for a morsel just above the water’s surface. Mike Mazur
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Of course, we each experienced the power of a tiger shark on rod and reel, as well, but we decided to catch only two. Truthfully, it was much more fun simply watching them feed. With the fish we did catch, however, … Mike Mazur
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….we carefully tagged them in the shallows, took their measurements and weights and released them back into the wild. Colin Rose has been tagging quite a few of these beautiful sharks around Grand Bahama, and scientists continue to learn more about the species and their traveling patterns by the day. Seeing them at such close range not only gives one a greater appreciation for the animal, but it fosters the sense that they’re an important part of the underwater ecosystem that deserve to be preserved and protected. Adrian Gray

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