Among the many incredible things to do in the Bahamas, diving and snorkeling expeditions are high on many visitors’ vacation must-do lists. From dramatic coral reefs alive with a multitude of incredible marine creatures to mysterious underwater caverns and romantic shipwrecks, the Bahamas are a paradise for those who love exploring the world beneath the sea. Surely one of the most unforgettable experiences of one of these underwater adventures is swimming among some of the ocean’s most awe-inspiring inhabitants, the shark.
Within the shark family of fish there are over 500 species, ranging from the tiny dwarf lantern shark, barely six inches long, to the gigantic whale shark, growing to almost 40 feet long and the largest fish in the world. All sharks have a cartilaginous skeleton, made of a lighter and more flexible material than bone.
Sharks are covered by a unique covering of dermal denticles, kind of like a suit of armor that protects them from parasites and also enhances their swimming ability by reducing drag. Their notorious serrated teeth are embedded in the gums rather than the jaw; they fall out and are replaced at an amazing rate, keeping them perpetually ready to feed. Some sharks actually lose more than 30,000 teeth over the course of their lifetime. Teeth may be replaced one at a time, or, as in the case of the cookie cutter shark, an entire row may be replaced all at once.
Sharks are carnivorous fish, feeding on the marine life below them on the food chain, which is nearly everything. Among sharks’ dining preferences are plankton, krill, sea lions, seals, fish and other sharks. Larger sharks in particular, such as the great white, blue, mako, tiger and hammer head, are called apex predators. This means they are at the very top of the food chain in their environment and have no natural predators.
Though sharks are often depicted as lone hunters, most species actually live a more social and sedentary life. They hunt mainly at night, and methods of hunting vary among the species. The massive whale and basking sharks simply cruise through the water filtering enormous quantities of plankton and other tiny marine creatures, while sharks that inhabit the ocean floor have become bottom-feeders. Some of the larger species, particularly the great white, hunt by launching surprise attacks, lunging from below at surface prey like seals and sea lions. Other species attack as a group in a feeding frenzy; sharks can head in towards one of these bloody feasts from miles away due to their acute sense of smell.
Sharks of the various species can be found in waters throughout the world. Cold blooded creatures, they can survive in warm, cold or temperate zones up to depths of 6,000 feet. Although most sharks live in aquatic habitats including coastal areas, the open ocean and the ocean floor, a few species , such as the bull and river sharks, favor fresh or brackish water. Sharks are known to meet up a rich hunting grounds, many following migratory patterns covering thousands of miles.