Sharks of Beqa lagoon part 1: Tiger sharks
Beqa Lagoon is often described as the World’s best shark diving location and I, for one, would not dispute that. I dived here with Rusi, Papa, Andrew and the team from Beqa Action Divers. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend these guys, I couldn’t have asked for a more conservation-orientated team with a great laid back attitide. At the same time the whole operation was extremely professional, making the diving run as smooth as clockwork. Above water the location is simply stunning; lush forest and magrove bordering the Navua River which empties into the sheltered lagoon. These are not, however,the crystal clear waters of , say, the Bahamas. In Fiji it rains a lot. A lot! River waters pour in to the lagoon; rarely seriously reducing visibility but just enough to reduce light levels and create slightly gloomy effect at depth. In my opinion this rather adds to the atmosphere of the place; a big tiger or bull shark appearing out of the gloom is somehow more impressive than one cruising across a bright sunlight seabed. The key location for bull sharks and tigers is near the outer edge of the lagoon, where it meets the open ocean, dropping into very deep water indeed. This has the advantage that you are furthest from the freshwater inputs, so the water is much clearer. Bulls and Tigers patrol the lower part of the reef slope, rising up to the ledge at about 30 metres (100 feet) at which the deepest part of the dive is conducted. I was generously allowed to position myself directly behind Tubee, who had the unenviable task of hand-feeding feeding the sharks with large chunks of tuna. I thus had a perfect view as they cruised in, then swept past overhead (sometimes requiring a slight nudge to help them clear me).
Close up of a large female Tiger Shark known as Scarface; swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000474. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
The tiger shark in these photographs is a lady known as scarface, due to the long scar running down from the right side of her jaw (the result of a fish hook). She is probably about 4-4.5 metres long (14-15 feet), so is a pretty big fish. She has been returning to the lagoon for several years, so is well known to the divers there. The first sign of her imminent appearance was the moving away of the bulls as they became aware of her presence; she then glided in to view, making a couple of circles to inspect the scene before deciding to head for the food. Although she has an impressive sense of smell her eyesight is not great; so provided you don’t move too much like food, or smell like food (slightly tricky when the water is full of tuna flakes) then you’re pretty much okay.
Large tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, swimming towards diver, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000486. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
Large female Tiger Shark, Scarface, swimming at around 30 metres depth, Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Image MBI000476. Please email me, quoting this number if you’d like to license use of this image or purchase a fine art print.
I took these shots on film, my last serious trip underwater with a film camera. The plus side is they produced huge images (20+megapixel images). The down side was I only had 100iso film and so was really struggling with light; even with a fast, wide prime lens (20mm) I was still down at 15th of a second shutter speed thus had to be pretty steady to get useable shots. Just to add to my problems, the auto-manual focus switch on my housing stopped working, leaving me stuck in autofocus. In such low light, low contrast conditions the autofocus was hunting like crazy. After losing a couple of perfect shots due to the camera failing to focus in time I resorted to the technique of waiting until a shark was approaching, deciding on the distance I was going to take the pic, then turning and pointing the camera at some coral rubble by my side that was about the same distance, locking focus, then with shutter half depressed turning and shooting once the shark was close enough. Needless to say this drew some curious looks from my Fijian friends; why on earth was I staring at a lump of rock to the side of me when a big shark was heading straight towards me, but hey! It worked.
I plan to follow this up with a couple more blogs on other shark species found at Beqa. Watch this space.