Aren’t they dangerous?
When you are headed to a dive site called “The Big Scare”, you can probably guess something out of the ordinary is awaiting you. Bat Islands (Islas Murcielagos) is part of the Santa Rosa national park, a protected marine reserve in Costa Rica.The Islands on the North West coast are well known for being home to Bull Sharks.“The Big Scare” is where you can get up close to the magnificent animals. With adult female Bull Sharks easily reaching 3.5m, it’s not surprising that some people are scared of encountering these sharks. However, observed from a distance with respect and no interference, there’s nothing to fear. Many people see Bull Sharks as dangerous, and fear unprovoked attacks. Bull Sharks are unique in that they can survive in both salt and fresh water, and so can often be found in estuaries and rivers. This, along with their fondness for shallow water and low visibility, helping them hunt, is possibly why they have grown to have a bad name. Here in Costa Rica, there has never been a recorded incident involving divers and Bull Sharks at Bat Islands.
Setting off at 6.30 am, I met up with instructor Fernando and 5 other customers on the beach. The journey to Bat Islands by boat is around 1.5 hours, so it is wise to bring some snacks and water. Keep your eyes peeled during the boat ride as often there are turtles, jumping rays and breaching Humpback whales to be seen. Just 10 minutes into the journey we saw a mother Humpback and her calf, and soon after a pod of dolphins. As you approach the islands the sea can become rougher, so keep that in mind if you suffer from sea sickness.
When we arrived at the site, Fernando briefed us on the dive and the sharks. He reminded us to be respectful and not try and chase them. After the briefing, it was a backroll into the water and a quick descent. The water around the islands is choppy, and the boat does not anchor, and so less time spent on the surface is certainly better. We swam away from the islands to reach 30 metres deep, and from there we followed Fernando as he slowly swam back and forth.
After only a few minutes, Fernando was excitedly banging his tank and pointing into the distance. We got our first glimpse of a Bull Shark, an unmistakable silhouette, but it soon vanished out of sight. We continued to swim, slowly making our way to slightly shallower depths and back towards the islands. Soon more sharks appeared, making big slow circles around our group. Occasionally one would get closer, and then all of a sudden you would see the realisation in it’s eyes, and it would quickly bolt away. When you are up close, in the sharks natural habitat, it’s impossible not to be blown away by these beautiful animals.
At these depths, air doesn’t last long. After around half an hour we began to ascend, and as we did, 2 sharks seemed to come out of the blue and swim straight towards us! I spotted them first, and began frantically waving. When they sensed us divers were too close, they quickly changed direction and darted off into the deep. It is easy to see why Bat Islands is quickly making a name for itself as a favourite place to dive in Costa Rica.
Although the sharks were the definite highlight of the trip to Bat Islands, our second dive at “Black Rock” was teaming with Eagle Rays, White tip reef sharks and huge schools of fish. We descended to around 18 metres and slowly circled round the site, completely in awe at the sheer number of fish! Black Rock is a rocky pinnacle, jutting out from the surface, and home to an unbelievable amount of life. Add to that that the tell tale plumes of water we saw on our surface interval indicating there were whales around, and it was a diving day I wont forget in a long time!
Looking for a general info on diving in Playa del Coco? I write all about it here!