Swimming with Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas

Swimming with nurse sharks is unique vacation experience that’s possible at Compass Cay.  


Swimming with Nurse Sharks of Exumas


A nurse shark’s face look a bit like harmless catfish but it comes in the shape of one of the most famous frightening predators. The name doesn’t lie, nurse sharks are sharks. They have big dorsal fins — infamous fins associated with man-eating shark movies like Jaws. But nurse sharks aren’t like Jaws at all. They are pretty much harmless, so much so that you can go swimming with them.


The Beauty of the Exumas

The home of these famously friendly nurse sharks is at a collection of islands in the Bahamas called the Exumas. This corner of the Caribbean sparkles with turquoise blue waters and boasts powder sand beaches, breathtaking coastlines and paradise like resorts. The region of 365 cays and islands were settled by British Loyalists following the American Revolution.


Today the Exumas are divided into three major areas: Great Exuma, Little Exuma and Exuma Cays.  Great Exuma and Little Exuma are considered laid-back destinations while the jet-set travelers head to luxury stays in the Exuma Cays. No matter where you may be in the Exumas, nature outnumbers people, and the islands of the Bahamas are famous for incredible and diverse shark populations.  In Compass Cay, the sharks welcome visitors!


About those Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay 

Brownish in color, broad headed nurse sharks are bottom feeders. They basically sit on the ocean floor to eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner. They do this by sucking sediment and little critters like crustaceans, sea snakes, stingrays and other fish from the sand. They’re also known for making high-pitched squealing noises while in place and as they nosh away.  Fully grown, nurse sharks can grow up to 15 feet and weigh as much as 330 pounds. They are also slow moving because scientists have found they have a much slower metabolism than faster-moving sharks. However, like other sharks they have strong jaws filled with thousands of sharp, pointy serrated teeth.


About those teeth, true to their carnivorous nature nurse sharks eat other animals including the smaller sea life as aforementioned. They will only bite defensively if stepped on by accident or bothered by divers.  All in all, they are considered quite harmless and are known in the animal kingdom for being laid back, easy-going sharks. They socialize in cozy piles, one on top of another, and like to stay in familiar shallow warm seas. They tend to swim awhile and then rest awhile. One might call them the “couch potatoes” of the shark world.   


Nurse Sharks at Compass Cay

Even though it’s safe, swimming with nurse sharks at Compass Cay can appear terrifying. Time has shown these nurse sharks don’t mind the human company. That’s why travelers jump in the water to swim with swarms of them. These sharks are stars. They even have names like Herman, Woody, Hook, Lefty, Squirt and Scar. Some are small but others are up to seven feet long.


So, why are these nurse sharks so friendly? Over the years, the nurse sharks of Compass Cay simply got used to seeing humans and got used to interacting with them. Also, many marina workers feed the nurse sharks. These sharks are smart and they know perfectly well that they are going to be fed so they really aren’t interested in attacking someone’s leg or arm instead. It isn’t in their nature anyway.  


At Compass Cay, you can touch or pet them as they swim by. The nurse shark’s skin is said to feel like wet sandpaper. Some will even swim right up to you.


Tips for Swimming with the Nurse Sharks

  • It’s okay to pet their backs.  Just stay away from their mouths.
  • Keep your hands above your head if food is being thrown into the water and they’re eating.   
  • When swimming in the Bahamas, do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound. Sharks in general are naturally attracted to blood.
  • Be smart, treat the animals with respect and do not harass them.


The Exumas: At A Glance

If you think that nurse sharks are the only friendly wildlife you can swim with in the Bahamas – think again. Dive in the ocean with big hairy – but very cute – pigs at the Big Majors Cay.   The enormous pigs were brought to the island during the First Gulf War for the farms there. Now they swim freely with tourists.


The Exumas are also a water sport and nature lover’s dream thanks to the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a stunning 176-square-mile nature preserve. The clear waters are perfect for kayaking, kiteboarding, sailing, and fishing. Scuba divers explore the coral and marine life which is hands down the most impressive in the region.


For fun, head to the beachside bars on Great Exuma and Little Exuma, home to the prettiest beaches accessible by car.  Tour Stocking Island, a small narrow island, which is right across Elizabeth Harbor. For authentic local food, head to the restaurants just outside of George Town.


Go Swimming with Nurse Sharks

At SVH Travel, we love to suggest exciting things to do when visiting the world’s most exotic destinations. We certainly think swimming with nurse sharks at Compass Cay is one of them. Don’t you agree? Would you swim with nurse sharks?

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