January 2016, the month of my 67th birthday, continuing my bucket list quest I managed to tick off the second species encounter on my list that had been eluding me for decades, the Great Hammerhead Shark.
This 7 metre Great Hammerhead was just one of 5 that circled around our Dive 2000 Dive/Photo Safari group in the shallow waters of Bimini Island in the Bahamas. Sometimes several would cruise in simultaneously for the one bait and at times like this we are relying on our own photo team to help control the shark’s behaviour. Fortunately our operator had done an excellent job of briefing everyone on protocols for managing Great Hammerheads during a shark feed.
These sharks were far less threatening than I imaged such a large shark would be. Our group quickly became accustomed to being in the presence of these magnificent creatures on a daily basis. We were also stunned at their ability to manoeuvre in an incredibly tight circle, virtually corkscrewing around no doubt assisted by their one metre wide cephalofoil shaped heads.
Photo Data: Location: Bimini Island, Bahamas. Genre: Wide Angle with Twin Strobes. Photo Data: Nikon D800 camera, Nikkor 16-35mm Zoom Lens, Seacam Housing with Seacam Strobes. Manual Exposure Mode. ISO 400 Exposure F11 @ 1/250th second shutter speed. Image by Kevin Deacon.
Photo Hints: It is most important to avoid overexposing the white undersides of subjects like sharks so your strobe power should be reduced more than normal to provide just enough fill light to reveal the detail. I also instructed everyone to position their strobes down and aimed upwards to provide fill lighting to the underside of the huge hammer shaped head and reveal the eyes.
As there was a lot of sand stirred up by the action of our group and the sharks, the use of very long strobe arms was essential to reduce backscatter from suspended particles in the water column.
Interesting Facts: Great Hammerhead Sharks have a wide tropical distribution but encounters are incredibly rare. During 50 years of diving worldwide I had never seen one and met very few who had. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark encounters are much more common but these sharks are smaller with an average size of 2 – 3 metres. Great Hammerheads average 5 – 7 metres.
To my knowledge the only location that Great Hammerheads gather in numbers and can be reliably encountered is Bimini Island in the Bahamas during the months of December to March. Like many sharks they are endangered due to the demand for shark fining.
Common names. Great Hammerhead, Giant Hammerhead. Squat-Headed Hammerhead.
Latin name: Sphyrna mokarran