Hammerheads, manta rays, a sperm whale and even an 18-foot whale shark are among some amazing wildlife sightings around the Cayman Islands in the past few weeks.
On Saturday, fishermen captured a video of a whale shark feeding in clear blue water just off North Side.
Earlier in January, scuba diver Jack Augsbury took a close-up snap of a great hammerhead shark at a dive site in East End.
Dive masters at Ocean Frontiers say they regularly see reef sharks as the water temperature cools in winter, but hammerheads and manta rays, which have also been seen on recent dives in the east, are a rare treat for divers.
The Department of Environment, which keeps tabs on sightings of large marine creatures off the Cayman Islands, also recorded the sighting of a juvenile sperm whale over the weekend.
Janice Blumenthal, research officer with the Department of Environment, encourages all fishermen and divers to report sightings to the department.
“This information is used to determine migratory patterns and assess the importance of our waters for these rare species,” she said.
Lee Foster, the fisherman who spotted the whale shark on Saturday, said it was a rare privilege to see such a large and beautiful animal in such clear water off Cayman.
“My mouth was just wide open. If I’d had my mask and snorkel, I would have jumped straight in,” he said.
It is likely that the 18-foot whale shark, a filter feeder and not dangerous, was a baby. Adult whale sharks can grow as large as 40 feet.
Jack Augsbury, who photographed the great hammerhead at Old Isaac’s dive site off East End, said the dive group had been watching reef sharks in the area for some time when the large hammerhead showed up.
“It was so powerful and graceful. Back on the dive boat we were all very excited and happy with our good fortune,” he said.
Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers dive shop, said scuba divers love to see sharks. He believes the island needs to do more to protect the sharks that populate Cayman’s waters.
“Hammerhead sharks are very special and a diver will never forget their first sighting. They are often shy and keep their distance, so a close pass is rare and getting a good clean photo of one is difficult.”
“There is always a buzz in the atmosphere after any dive when sharks have been sighted,” he said. “It is a privilege to be able to share the ocean with these amazing creatures.
“Cayman needs to do more to protect sharks. They play a critical role as an apex predator in the marine ecosystem. Shark fishing must be banned or we risk degrading the health of beautiful coral reefs.”
To report a recent or past sighting of large marine animals around the Cayman Islands, call 949-8459, email [email protected], or post to the Facebook group Sharks & Cetaceans: the Cayman Islands.