10 Animals To Meet In The Bahamas

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The diverse tropical habitats of the Bahamas offer animal lovers the chance to spend quality time with a variety of land and sea creatures. Extending across 100,000 square miles of the Caribbean, the Bahamas includes more than 700 islands and is home to the third-largest barrier reef in the world. Much of the wildlife is accessible to visitors through guided tours or within animal reserves that have been established to increase awareness and protect endangered species. Although these animals are not a threat to humans, they are still wild, and visitors should make every effort to show respect and preserve their habitats.—Sarah Siyufy

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Dolphins

Bimini is the where the wild dolphins are. When sailing around these islands, a pod of wild Atlantic Spotted dolphins might decide to swim alongside the boat and play in the wake, making the trip a memorable one. Dolphins are special animals due to their ability to connect with people. Dolphins respond to the energy of humans they interact with, becoming excited when they feel excitement or mimicking the actions of their new human friends. Although an encounter is not guaranteed, joining a dolphin tour increases the likelihood of a sighting and provides visitors with an opportunity to play in the water with the dolphins.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Iguanas

On the small shore of Allen’s Cay, the familiar rumble of approaching boats summons a reptilian army of rock iguanas to the water where the tourists wait, armed with bananas and grapes. Rock iguanas are indigenous to only three islands in the world, all of which are in the Bahamas. Conservation efforts have been made to increase the endangered iguana population, which is currently threatened by poaching and predatory animals. Around 1,000 iguanas live on Allen’s Cay, and these friendly herbivores benefit from the supplemental diet provided by visitors. Even though the iguanas are much smaller and less pushy than the pigs, they are still eager to be fed. Some will grab the food and go, preferring to eat their meal in solitude. Others will host their generous guests by posing for photos with slight smiles frozen on their faces.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Sharks

At the marina in Compass Cay, nurse sharks congregate in the shallow waters where free meals are sprinkled from above, their only inconvenience being the tourists who stand among them while they feed. In the feeding area, the water is peppered with chum and the visitors are encouraged to enter the fray, most sliding into the water hesitantly at first, but gradually becoming more comfortable after seeing that the sharks’ interest lies elsewhere. Although nurse sharks are not nearly as intimidating as the more fearsome species, they do possess some classic shark features such as a dorsal fin, vacant eyes, and sharp teeth. Their teeth are visible but small, and visitors would be wise to keep their hands out of the water, making sure to pet the shark on the back to avoid an accidental nibble.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Flamingoes

Preferring an isolated existence, the West Indian Flamingo can be found balancing in the salt flats of Lake Rosa on the Inagua Islands. More than 80,000 flamingos flock to these marshes to feast on the fly larvae and brine shrimp that are packed to the gills with beta carotene, imparting their deep pink hue into the flamingos’ plumage. Not limited to flamingos, Inagua is the best spot for bird watching in the Bahamas. More than 140 species of birds, native and migratory, can be found on the island.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Sea Stars

One of the most recognizable underwater creatures is the large, spiny, orange Bahama Sea Star. Tour guides are often outfitted with at least one sea star to show to visitors. Snorkeling is the best way to view the sea star in its natural habitat, thriving among the coral reefs and in seagrasses around the islands. Sea stars have plenty of fascinating features that are highly uncommon in the majority of animals, such as the ability to regenerate body parts that have been lost or shed. Most sea stars can generate new limbs, while some species can miraculously create a new center body from only a piece of arm. Stars are carnivores, even though at first glance they do not appear to be the most fearsome of hunters. Their limited mobility means that their meals include more stationary prey such as shellfish or oysters. The center of the star contains the heart and the stomach, and if prey is too large, the stomach emerges from the sea star’s body, digests the prey on the outside, then retracts back inside when finished. Rows of suction cups line the sea star’s arms to propel itself along the sea floor. The star’s vascular system acts as a filter, cleaning the surrounding waters. Most sea stars are the size of a human hand, although some lucky snorkelers might spot one with a span of a few feet. The number of arms is not limited to five—some stars have up to 10 or even 40.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Pigs

Visitors to the beach at Big Major Cay in Exuma witness a sight that is highly unusual in any part of the world. A litter of pigs in varying colors and sizes splash and waddle along an idyllic white sand beach on their own private pig island, surrounded by the electric blue waters of the Caribbean, living high on the hog. The pigs look very out of place against this backdrop, and most visitors become downright gleeful at the strange existence and enviable lifestyle of these tropical pigs. The pigs have taken to the marine life, whether that is displaying a natural skill for swimming or acquiring food. Tours arrive daily to Pig Island, much to the delight of the pigs who rely on curious visitors and locals to supply them with food and fresh water. The pigs make it very clear right away that their interest lies with food and little else. Visitors who want to make a pig friend must offer food in exchange for petting and photos. The pigs are usually fed lettuce or stale bread that is sometimes served in the form of a hot dog bun, which the pigs happily gobble. There are a few theories as to how the pigs ended up marooned on a deserted tropical island, the most interesting being that the pigs were left there by sailors who intended to return for a meal. The pirates and explorers who spent their time venturing around the Caribbean invented the method of cooking known as barbecue, so it is quite possible they thought it a good idea to stock their islands with supplies.

Insider Tip: Visitors would be wise to be careful when feeding the pigs: not only do pigs have sharp teeth but they also possess very little discretion between food and fingers.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Turtles

The sea turtles in the Bahamas can be found in their largest concentration on Eleuthera Island. Four of the world’s seven turtle species live here, and each species has its own preferred habitat—mangrove forests, shallow coastal areas, coral reefs, and the open ocean. The sea turtle is a fragile animal, greatly affected by development and the destruction of nesting grounds. Many conservation efforts have been established in the Bahamas to protect the sea turtle populations. Visitors can see the turtles in and around Eleuthera in a variety of ways. Spot turtles through a snorkel mask among the coral reefs or on a boat in crystal-clear waters. Turtle Lake is a 43-acre saltwater lake lined with mangroves where visitors can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes to navigate the area. Mangrove forests are the lifeblood of this habitat, encouraging biodiversity above and below the water.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Fish

Strap on a snorkel for an immersive experience in the caves and coral reefs of Thunderball Grotto. What appears to be a not very interesting rock is actually a system of small caves that is home to lively, colorful coral reefs and many brightly colored tropical fish. Made famous by a cameo in two James Bond films, Thunderball Grotto is a popular stop for many visitors to Exuma. Visitors arrive to the Grotto via boat and then snorkel or dive their way inside the cavernous rock. Low tide is easier to navigate, as there are five entrances that can only be accessed by diving underwater and two entrances that are accessible above water. Streams of light find their way into the cave, illuminating the calm blue water and the array of wildlife that darts in and out of reefs on the shallow sea floor. Spot some of the Bahamas’ finest such as triggerfish, rock beauty, angelfish, yellowtail snappers, and sergeant majors.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Conch

The most celebrated ocean floor resident and a staple of Bahamian cuisine, the Queen Conch (pronounced “konk”), is a sea snail that thrives in these warm blue waters. Many boat tours include a meet and eat with a conch. A tour guide sometimes doubles as an experienced conch hunter and will anchor the boat above the shallow waters where the mollusk multitudes thrive. Diving in and out of the water, a bounty of conch is collected. The conch is shy and recedes into its shell upon face-to-face inspection. Soon after harvest, the conch is combined with limes, oranges, onions, and habañeros to create a fresh and delicious conch salad. Conch shells are distinct in appearance and can be found strewn about many Bahamian beaches. A large, spiny outside is turned over to reveal a smooth, bright pink opening. The conch is often used as island home décor, a musical instrument, or can even be home for coral or algae that attach to the shell’s exterior.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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Spider Crab

Crabs roam all over the Bahamas, especially on Andros Island, known as the “The Land of the Crabs.” This island hosts the Bahamas’ largest population of land crabs, many of which are threatened due to overdevelopment. All crabs, whether their life is lived on the land or in the sea, are influenced by the ocean’s cycles. The land crabs that live inland in the forest must travel to the sea in order to hatch their eggs. This migration is filled with hazards and is why the government created the Land Crab National Park in the Central Andros.

Insider Tip: For visitors who want to celebrate the crab, there is an annual crab festival on Andros Island during the second week of June, when the rains are abundant. The crab fest is meant to celebrate the community’s shared history and culture with this crustacean, and attendees enjoy a cultural show, crabs cooked in 101 different ways, a releasing of the crabs, and plenty of food and entertainment Bahamas-style.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Fodor’s Bahamas Guide

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