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DiverWire Destination: Bimini Big Animal Adventures

(DiverWire) The tiny island chain known as Bimini, in the Northern Bahamas has for decades been defined by an eclectic history. Rum running, Ernest Hemingway and world class big game fishing, all within the Bermuda Triangle. Bimini is also home to some amazing wild animal encounters and eco tourism adventures. Despite being small in size, Bimini packs a big punch when it comes to big animal encounters.

dolphinssurfacesummerlowWild Dolphins: There are no glass walls to look through here and you will not find flaming hoops that animals are expected to leap through at the command of a trainer with a whistle; you will only find open space, blue water and a truly wild encounter. Both Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins are found off the shores of Bimini and local operators and researchers have honed in on the ability to connect people with these incredibly intelligent animals in a safe and unique manner. The dolphins swim free and must deliberately chose to interact with a human pod and when they do the experience is remarkable. Yes, even this unabashedly shark obsessed girl has had some once in a lifetime experiences in the water with these charismatic creatures.

The spotted dolphins are more curious than the bottlenose and this can lead to playtime between human and animal where no words are spoken, but a connection exists. Spiraling, twirling and dancing in twenty feet of crystal clear water over white sand bottom is like being in a perfectly scripted movie scene, but in reality is anything but scripted.  The encounters may last minutes or hours, but are the kind of moments that could never be recreated on any movie set or in any aquarium.

amyray2Stingrays: Grand Cayman is famous for the friendly critters that inhabit “Stingray City,” but Bimini is also home to some very affectionate southern stingrays. Gun Cay lies less than 10 miles south of the big islands of Bimini and is an uninhabited paradise.  Honeymoon Harbour is everything a deserted beach paradise is epitomized by; white sand beach and sheltered shoreline rimmed by some of the bluest waters in the Bahamas. Salt and sea weathered branches bend and frame the edge of the beach while a red and white lighthouse appears in the distance.

For years visitors have anchored just offshore and interacted with dozens of southern stingrays, nurse sharks and the occasional eagle ray, lemon shark or black tip shark that passes by. A few pieces of squid and you will quickly make friends. Anywhere from 2-20 stingrays may make an appearance and sit on your lap, nuzzle your toes or give you an unexpected goose from behind. They are not shy and will work the crowd like a Labrador retriever begging for a snack from the dinner table. The size difference between males and females is significant and some of the females are like large blankets. The animals will circle around for snacks before settling in the sand nearby. You can kneel in shallow water or snorkel around and watch them move over the sand bottom like hovercrafts.

Sharks:  The world renowned Bimini Biological Field Station (Sharklab) is located on the south island of Bimini and has for over 20 years been at the forefront of shark science and research. It is no happy accident that the lab is located in a Mecca for sharks with a dynamic range of species and habitats attracting scientists, film crews, conservationists and divers from around the world. Juvenile lemon sharks use the extensive mangrove ecosystem as a nursery; Caribbean reef sharks cruise the reefs while great hammerheads and bull sharks migrate through seasonally.

dunklabtoursmVisitors can take a tour of the Sharklab (http://www6.miami.edu/sharklab/) and learn about the research being done and even meet a baby shark while divers have the opportunity to get up close with some of the larger species of sharks. Local guides and operators offer Caribbean reef shark dives and snorkels year round and great hammerhead dive encounters seasonally. Even on regular wreck and reef dives you are likely to see at least one species of shark if not several. The whole family can observe and learn about these amazing creatures as they explore the stunning blue water surrounding the islands.

Bimini has some unique ocean encounters for all ages, but please remember to go with a trusted local guide. You will learn about these animals while experience a safe and unique adventure. Eco tourism is vital in the Bahamas and these are all amazing opportunities to learn about our incredible oceans and why they are worth protecting. Bimini should definitely be on your Bucket List for big animal encounters. Dive in and experience why is truly is, “Better in the Bahamas.”

The Bimini Sands Activities (www.biminisands.com) department offers snorkel encounters with dolphins, stingrays and sharks led by local marine biologists and conservationists. Shark dives with local guides and marine biologists can be booked with Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center (http://www.biminiscubacenter.com/).  Longer wild dolphin encounters can be booked through Bimini Adventures (http://www.biminiadventures.com/) and WildQuest (http://www.wildquest.com/)