Staff Picks: Samantha Whitcraft, Tiger Beach

I’d been to Tiger Beach before, on assignment to write a magazine article, so I was already excited to revisit the many sharks I knew would be there. But I had never been to Tiger Beach with Aggressor Adventures and that made all the difference.

From the moment I stepped aboard, the yacht was spacious and comfortable and the crew so friendly, I felt at home right away. We were greeted with yummy snacks and welcome drinks while watching the first of so many stunning sunsets to come.

Our first dive sight was the aptly-named “Shark Paradise” where I got my first hands-on, underwater photography lesson with Mike Haber of the Mike & Mike Photography School, who was co-leading the trip with Mike Mesgleski, both excellent photographers and teachers. There were so many big, beautiful sharks gliding over the patch reefs, it was hard to know where to look next. It was there at Shark Paradise that I took the first shark photograph I was proud to put my name on (below). And it seemed all the guests had been equally successful in starting to improve their photography also – thanks to Mike & Mike, we were off to a great start and spirits were high!

After a full day of diving, we had a delicious, gourmet dinner accompanied by a fine wine that I skipped, as I would for most of the trip because I was working towards finally getting my “Iron Diver” recognition and medal (awarded for completing all offered dives during an Aggressor Adventures dive charter). At the end of each day, exhausted but happy, we all shared our dive stories and our day’s photographs; always a great way to bond at sea.

We went on to dive some lovely reefs and wrecks including Sugar Wreck where the abundant marine life included large, curious puffers and a lovely hawksbill sea turtle who, during a dusk dive led me straight to her resting spot for the night. From a respectful distance, I watched her hunker down under the wreck and fall asleep, peacefully, as the light faded from the clear, shallow water. I spent the rest of the dive photographing the fishes of Sugar Wreck, and later back aboard, Mike and Mike were there, as always, with helpful critiques and editing advice.

But, of course, the highlight of the itinerary was the ever-famous Tiger Beach. When we first descended to the bright, white sandy bottom it was covered in more than a dozen resting lemon sharks accompanied by their many remoras.

With a careful, respectful approach it was possible to photograph them from every angle, even capturing their odd, toothy grins. The dive guides were always professional in guiding us to “get the shot” while avoiding any direct interaction with the animals so as not to disturb them. They also reassured us that it was very likely we’d get a tiger shark sooner or later. And we DID!

She came in like a gray ghost from the murky distance, barely visible at first. Then her approach ellipses gradually became smaller and tighter until she felt comfortable enough to glide past each diver in turn. She was all of twelve feet long (3.7 meters), beautifully stripped, and graceful beyond description. She stayed around us the entire dive, and everyone got either the tiger shark shot or moment of their dreams.

As a bonus, a new friend and extraordinary wildlife photographer, Harry Skeggs (also taking the onboard underwater photography course), captured my blissful, one-on-one moment with our tiger. Today, it too hangs on my office wall.

On the last day, we all shared our best photographs during our final cocktail hour, and I finally received my “Iron Diver” medal. On this amazingly fun dive trip, I had somehow accomplished so much including making new friends, greatly improving my photography, and completing every dive, every day. My medal is draped over my framed shark photo above my desk, as I write this reminding me that with my improved photography skills, I will return to Tiger Beach, again, soon. And I can’t wait!

Samantha Whitcraft, Director of Conservation & Outreach, 3 years experience, Bahamas Aggressor – Tiger Beach – 2018

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