Monday, 16 May 2011

Britain’s gentle marine giants leave spotters open mouthed at their sheer siz

Shark spotters urged to record sightings as they happen using mobile phones

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says enormous basking sharks are once again being spotted in UK coastal waters as they cruise close to the shore, hoovering up vast amounts of plankton through their gaping mouths.

Through their long-running Basking Shark Watch programme, MCS has already been alerted by the public to sightings around Land’s End, off the world famous Cobb at Lyme Regis, off Donegal, Northern Ireland, at Dingle and Kerry in southwest Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland.

The first basking shark of the year was seen very early - reported to MCS off the island of Canna, west coast of Scotland - in January, with the next two sightings reported in March, one close to Millport, Scotland and the other close to Newlyn, Cornwall.

Last month’s warm weather has resulted in more early close encounters for coastal walkers, who spotted these bus-sized animals close to shore at traditional basking shark hotspots. They appear to have come about a month early compared to ‘usual’ years, when sharks start appearing in May.

Rachel Wyatt, from Cornwall, was walking along the cliffs at Porthcurno, near Land’s End, when she saw a basking shark in the sea below: “It was quite unexpected as it’s so early in the season. It was a really great sight as it swam up and down this stretch of coast, probably within about five metres of the cliff. We had a good view of its huge mouth which was wide open.”

MCS is urging people to report sightings of these huge animals as part of the Basking Shark Watch programme, to help conservationists better understand the behaviour and needs of the UK’s largest fish.

“The more we can map the location of these creatures over time, the more we can discover about their lives and ensure they continue to thrive in our waters,” said Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Biodiversity Policy Officer: “With so many people carrying smart phones these days, it’s easy to go straight to our website (, record your sighting and take a picture and upload it directly to our Facebook page (, all within moments of seeing a basking shark.”

The MCS Basking Shark Watch programme holds the biggest database of publicly reported sightings in the world and has led to MCS successfully campaigning for the protection of basking sharks under UK and International laws.

“This year we hope to get even more information about the lives of these massive sharks. As well as encouraging spotters to record sightings online, we are also working with the University of Exeter to carry out a detailed survey of local knowledge and opinion about basking sharks in Cornwall,” said Dr Solandt. “Evan Landy, a University of Exeter Masters student, will be interviewing fishermen, surfers, coastal walkers, swimmers – anyone who has seen a basking shark up close in Cornwall – to see how local knowledge reflects the findings of our own work.”

As with all sightings of wild animals, MCS urges caution: “These impressive creatures can grow up to 11 metres long and weigh up to seven tonnes and, although they aren’t dangerous to humans, their behaviour can be unpredictable and involve sudden leaping out of the water or ‘breaching’,” said Dr Solandt. “Seven tonnes of flailing basking shark has real potential to spoil your day if you get too close, so we urge people to keep a safe and respectful distance from them.”

In collaboration with the Shark Trust, MCS has produced the Basking Shark Code of Conduct, which provides clear guidance on how the public can behave safely around basking sharks. You can find out more at