Scuba Diving in Jamaica: Are there Sharks?

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As I head back to Jamaica I have been asked many times about some of the sea animals I see while scuba diving and if I see any sharks. Well, in reality, there are sharks in Jamaica and very aggressive ones. Here is my take on my favorite subject Sharks.

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, which has been around since 1988, comes around every July or August for a whole week, captivating millions of viewers with an uneasy blend of pseudo-science, fiction, and entertainment focused on sharks.

The question always comes up, “Are there sharks in Jamaica?”

I was surprised at how many people believe that as long as there is a beach there are shark attacks.

Not true.

One thing you can be reasonably sure of, whether you are staying in a hotel or at one of the many Jamaica villas, is that you don’t have to worry about your vacation being ruined by sharks in Jamaica.

The Fear of Sharks

41051441_2176721732542929_4301544402758664192_nFear of sharks is very common; thanks in large part to unforgettable movies like Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster hit, Jaws, which reinforced the idea that sharks are killers who love human flesh. The sight of a toy dorsal fin on a float is likely to send many sea bathers running.

For some top vacation spots around the world, shark attacks aren’t fiction.

From 1837-present, there have been 812 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks in Florida, 159 in Hawaii, 122 in California, and 102 in South Carolina, making those states the top states for shark attacks in the US.

At first blush, these numbers may look high. But, look at the time span … 1837 to the present. So sleep easy. The truth is that shark attacks are rare. The odds of being attacked by a shark are about one in 11.5 million.

While shark attacks are rare, they are more common in some parts of the world than in others. See the full list here.

At #51, this is one list Jamaica is happy to rank low on! And that’s fine. Come on down the water is just fine.

Are there sharks are in Jamaica?

21314675_1931599787108033_1586040361376111688_nCaribbean reef sharks, tiger sharks, hammerhead, and bull sharks have been reported. This makes sense since those types of sharks are known to like warmer waters, such as what you would find in Jamaica.

You wouldn’t expect to find Great White sharks in Jamaica as they prefer colder waters.

Perhaps, the most common sharks in Jamaica are nurse sharks, which are docile creatures that tend to live towards the bottom of the seafloor. Here is a video where a diver encountered one while scuba diving.

Has there ever been a shark attack in Jamaica?

26168355_2022198034661967_6222047925402858228_nThe cases of shark attacks in Jamaica have been few and far between. There have been 22 attacks, of which 10 were fatal from 1827 to the present.

The attacks typically have been way out in deep waters and associated with deep-sea fishing, spear fishing in particular, and diving.

The last fatality from a shark attack was in March of 2013 after a Jamaican fisherman got separated from his group while spearfishing about 3 miles off the south coast.

Where have sharks been spotted in Jamaica?

20953475_1926337870967558_2888185899257193755_nSharks have been sighted mostly on the Southern coast of Jamaica but not many to speak of on the Northern Coast. Of the recorded attacks, almost all were in the Kingston Harbour – Port Royal area which is south to the south-east or in the Westmoreland area which is on the southern side of western Jamaica.

There is speculation that the natural reefs off the North Coast, which make snorkeling and scuba diving so great, serve as a great barrier keeping large sea-life such as sharks at bay. Larger sharks stay away from coral reefs and are usually beyond the reefs in deeper waters, not near the shore.

Can you go swimming with sharks in Jamaica?

Unlike in some places like Maldives, Fiji, or the Bahamas, there is no swimming or diving “with the sharks” attraction in Jamaica.

For the less adventurous, the closest you will get to swim with the sharks is watching the Shark Show at Dolphin Cove where they have a nurse shark interaction.

Scuba divers could encounter nurse sharks during their dives; but, there is no organized and guaranteed shark attraction available on the island…

Aren’t nurse-sharks sharks?

20953264_1926337744300904_2028074454550434458_nYes, they are but they are a generally harmless variety.

According to National Geographic, “Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. However, they can be huge—up to 14 feet (4.3 meters)—and have very strong jaws filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth, and will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile.”

Sharksider.com states, “The threat to humans is very minimal. There have only been a few attacks ever recorded, and only one of those attacks was unprovoked. No fatal attacks have ever been recorded.”

So in reality, they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

Could shark sightings in Jamaica be a mistake?

Hmmm. Yes, it is very common for people to mistake dolphins for sharks.

How do you tell a dolphin from a shark?

With sharks, the dorsal fin is always up.
With dolphins, since they go down to feed and come up to breathe, the fin also goes up and down.

That said, if you see an unexpected dorsal fin, don’t stick around to figure it out!

6 tips to help keep you safe while swimming in the ocean – anywhere in the world

  • Follow the cardinal rule. Never swim alone – ever. Always swim in groups. This is just common sense and not only to save you from sharks.
  • Swim close to shore. Stay in more shallow water. Sharks like deep waters.
  • Avoid swimming at twilight or at night. Sharks are most active after dark. Nurse sharks are an exception.
  • Do not go swimming with open wounds or where there are fishermen. Sharks can smell blood from great distances away.
  • Avoid jewelry or shiny items because light reflecting off the metal may be similar to light off fish scales – You don’t want to be confused for a fish. Plus you don’t want to risk losing your jewelry, right?
  • Only swim in designated areas.

 

Hmmm …. It seems to me that these tips will keep you safe from more than just sharks!

Is it likely that you will encounter sharks in Jamaica?

If you go scuba diving or sail out in deep waters or if you are snorkeling by the reefs away from the shore, you could see sharks which, 99.999% of the time in Jamaica, will be harmless nurse sharks.

The chance of a shark coming near you is exceedingly low. So low that the shark scene in Jamaica will not get us featured on Shark Week. And that is perfectly fine with us.

So, stop worrying about sharks! Make a trip to Silver Sand’s,  Jamaica. Bring sunscreen. The beautiful beaches and clear, warm waters of the Caribbean Sea are waiting for you.

One last thing … Help Save the Sharks!

23518992_1999538660261238_3492777480779134800_nSharks are beautiful creatures that contribute great value to our world. Unfortunately, they are presently endangered.

As predators at the top of the ocean’s food chain, they are critical to maintaining balance in the marine ecosystem.

Overfishing has reduced their food supply. Many are killed every year from being caught in nets and injured by boats. Hundred of thousands, if not over a million, are killed each year for their dorsal fin then left to die.

Without action, there will be no more sharks. Some species are already extinct.

Discovery Channel has the platform with their Shark Week to do more education on the value of these majestic creatures. Hit them up on Twitter (#DiscoveryChannel) and tell them we want more facts, not fiction – Entertainment and education are not mutually exclusive!

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