Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fiji Shark Dive: Beqa Island

Following the food bin


No one know he is there but me: Bull Shark
 When I was first getting in to advanced underwater photography I got a lot of advice from a pro photographer named David Fleetham. One thing I remember him mentioning was his desire to go back to a famous shark dive in Fiji, where sharks emerge a few feet in front of you from the midst of a tornado of fish. I later had a couple friends travel to Fiji with a dive trip run by Maui Dreams and they came back with similar stories of this shark dive I just had to do. So this incredible sounding dive has been on my radar for some time but when was I going to get the chance to be in Fiji....insert the great Oceana Trip of '13. And what better way to introduce Myles and Jack to Fijian diving than to go straight to the Beqa shark dive I've heard so much about!
A bull cruises close in front
I've been talking about this ever since our first dive together in Australia. It is only fitting that this was to be the culmination of our diving together and our last big adventure on this trip. The dive is a shark feed where all the guest descend to 80ft, then kneel down behind a line. Two divers from Aquatrek dive center are the shark feeders. They have huge crates with them filled with tuna heads and I'm not sure what else. They are not afraid to hand feed most of the sharks but if a big bull or tiger comes through they will toss it and let the shark snatch it up from a safer, but still very close distance.
Sharks in the midst
A white tip patrols


 I was a little worried about my ears not clearing properly on the dive we did the day before. So I tried every trick in the book from taking sudafed, to drinking lots of tea and water, getting a good nights sleep, and even putting Mentholatum up my nose. We all jumped in the water excited to see some sharks and I promptly descended to 14ft before my ears stopped equalizing. This was not a good start.
  Luckily the guides knew me to be an experienced dive master so they didn't hesitate to take the rest of the group down to the feeding site and leave me to try and slowly make my way down. After 20 minutes of checking out a few remoras that were swimming near the surface I slowly started to be able to descend. My right ear never equalized but by going very slowly I sank deeper towards the site.
  I was just beginning to make out the line of divers and the swirling mass of fish when I heard the tell tale clanking signalling the end of the feed. I hoped that the boys saw some cool sharks and tagged along with the group as they ascended past me. I was pretty bummed but we did go by a cool shipwreck on the way back to the boat and I thought I may have seen a bull shark from far off. But still pretty bummed. The shark dive I'de heard so much about, so close, yet just out of reach. I expected the second dive to be even worse.
  I took another sudafed kindly supplied by one of the managers. It is a decongestant that can temporarily alleviate the symptoms of congestion which plague scuba divers trying to equalize. The real kicker came when Paul let me jump in and descend before everyone else. Just in case my ears acted up again I might have time to descend like last time after awhile.
 I promptly descended to 13ft. This was going to be tough but it was my last chance. The group shows up about 5 minutes later and swims down to a spot about 65 feet deep. As I hovered over the same coral head I spent the majority of the first dive I willed my ear to equalize. It never did. But I was able to get lower and lower until all of a sudden I was there! I picked my place in line and started to experience the Beqa shark dive! Luckily this one lasted longer than the first. I saw white tip sharks and grey sharks swimming around the outskirts of the fish tornado. Tawny nurse sharks hovered over the sand. Ragged tooth sharks and a few very big bull sharks circled until appearing from the middle of the tornado to snatch a tuna head. Free swimming remoras, the fish that suck onto sharks, were everywhere as well as a lone great barracuda and a massive grouper who was surrounded by tiny schooling yellow fish. 
Got the shot: Bull shark about to chomp
One of the shark feeders noticed my big camera and came over right in front of me. After a few moments of waiting a ragged tooth shark zeroed in on an easy meal and came and snatched a couple tuna heads from the feeder's hand. I was already excited just to have made it, now I got to see a shark feed right in front of me. What happened next really blew me away. The shark feeder swam back over to me and motioned for me to follow him over the line. I was really hoping that Jack and Myles were GoProing this as I was led to a spot in the midst of the fish tornado. The feeder held out a tuna head again and we both waited. There is so much action here that it is hard to know where to look. And it is hard to know where the shark is going to come from. But you know that it will come.
  So we are looking and I have my hand on the shutter button when I see the biggest bull shark turn towards us. I start snapping pictures in rapid fire hoping to get the moment when the shark opens its mouth. It all happens so fast that I don't even know if I got the picture until back at the resort.
Emerging from the tornado
7ft Nurse Shark
I stayed in the midst of the tornado for the rest of the dive. Even though I couldn't make it down for the first one I feel like I am the luckiest one there. I had my camera bumped into by a 7 foot nurse shark, and close encounters with bulls and ragged tooth sharks, both of which I had never swam with before. I don't know when I will get to do this dive again but a little discomfort in the ear was totally worth the experience.
Greedy shark
Keeping a close eye on me
 It is pretty wild to think that we were surfing not too far away from here but on the up side at least they are well fed.

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