EXPERTS are encouraging the British public to take note of any unusual movements they see in coastal waters this spring and summer, as basking sharks start to take centre stage.
Following several early season sightings – last week a basking shark was spotted close to Sutton Harbour in Plymouth – experts from the National Marine Aquarium and the Shark Trust are asking people who see the endangered creatures in the water to record their sightings.
As one of over 30 species of shark which are native to British coastal waters, basking sharks can be seen close to the coast during the spring and summer, as they come to feed on plankton. However, the sharks are listed as ‘Endangered Status’ on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, therefore every sighting counts.
Dr David Gibson, Managing Director of the Plymouth-based National Marine Aquarium, said: “Visitors to the coast this spring and summer may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a basking shark in shallower waters. They tend to favour the plankton-rich areas around the Devon and Cornish coast and the coastline around the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland. The sharks may look dramatic with their large, open mouths, but in fact they are gentle creatures and are seriously endangered, due to in part to a legacy of over-exploitation.
“Additionally, basking sharks’ fins are considered a delicacy in parts of the Far East, which can threaten numbers around the world. Seeing basking sharks in our waters is a fantastic experience, and the more we learn about them, the more we can help protect them.” Ali Hood, Shark Trust Director of Conservation added: “Basking sharks are quite an enigma, but year on year the research community is learning more about their behaviour through techniques such as tagging, photo-identification and genetic sampling. The public can also help by reporting shark sightings to the Trust website.”
Although relatively slow moving, basking sharks are capable of demonstrations of impressive strength and on occasion can breach clear of the water. Basking sharks are protected from disturbance or harassment under UK law and following the Shark Trust Code of Conduct is a good way to ensure your safety as well as the sharks. So what do you do if you are lucky enough to see a basking shark while out swimming or sailing this summer?
Here’s our five-step guide.
1. Don’t panic. Even though basking sharks can reach up to 12 metres in length and can weigh up to a massive 7 tonnes, they are gentle giants.
2. Make sure you maintain a distance of at least four metres between you and the shark so as not to startle it.
3. If you are in the water with other people, keep together in a group, but don’t invite others over to take a look. Don’t use underwater propellers or anything else that could frighten them. As basking sharks often travel in groups, it’s worth knowing that if you spot one on the surface, there are usually more hidden below.
4. If you have a camera handy, take a number of photos of the dorsal fin and any distinguishable features on the shark, as this may help the Shark Trust re-identify it in the future.
5. Gently move away, and contact the Shark Trust to tell them about your sighting. The Shark Trust can be contacted on 01752 672020, or report sightings online.