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Marine Life & Conservation

Basking Sharks in Cornwall

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Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish with the Whale shark taking top spot. The name ‘Basking’ comes from its habit of cruising the warmer waters near the surface as if basking in the sun. In fact they are feeding on the plankton that rises near the surface during warmer weather.  The sharks are often seen near the shore with their tell tale dorsal and tail fins cutting the silky waters surface. They can grow up to lengths of around 9 metres and weigh 5 tons or more but even so they are not at all dangerous.  Having said that, of course if you put your hand in its mouth or try to ride its tail then it will panic and by its shear size alone will no doubt do you harm in its attempt to escape.

I recently spent a day out along the south Cornish coast looking for the sharks with Charles Hood, a marine photographer who runs shark watching trips out of Penzance.  With the knowledge that several were spotted the day before, we were confident that we would soon find them and be able to get into the water and snorkel with them. Alas, as the day went on and neared its end they were still nowhere to be found. Charles called other boats in the area and they all said what a great day it was yesterday for the sharks but none spotted today. That’s wildlife for you!

I have had some great encounters with Basking Sharks in Sennen Cove, Cornwall, when I have been out on my surf board. Letting the sharks come to me rather that chase them I have had many along side me with their great gaping mouths sieving out the plankton into their gill rakers.

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I recalled to Charles a very nasty encounter I had early on in my career as a wildlife cameraman when a 6 metre shark was harpooned right in front of my eyes while I was in the water filming it. It may have been my fancy but I could hear the death groans from the shark as it battled hopelessly against the harpoon and its tether to the ship that had fired it.

After an age of struggle and pain the dying shark was hauled up to the boat where its tail was cut off. It was then tied to a buoy and left in the water to die slowly before being hauled aboard and taken back to port.

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The reason for it being so brutally killed was for its liver oil which is 25-30% of its body weight. The oil is very pure and needs little refining and worth a lot of money. Thankfully now the Basking shark is protected by law.

http://www.baskingshark.ie/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=56&Itemid=86

Just before going back to harbour we pulled into a small cove where I asked Charles about the sharks and the people he took out to see them.

 

Charles:

All sorts really, from those who have never seen a shark before to shark experts. As well as locals I get people from as far away as Hawaii, Canada and Europe. Although a few are youngsters most are in their 40-50s who have photographed sharks before around the world and want to put the Basking shark on their tick list.

Jeff:

Is Cornwall good for basking sharks?

Charles:

Yes generally from Sennen around to the west of the Lizard is best from mid May through to July and sometimes in August we get a second plankton bloom which will keep the sharks around.

Jeff:

Do they come close to the shore?

Charles:

Yes indeed, they will come right into the rocky shoreline as well as the sandy shallows of the holiday beaches.

Jeff:

How long have you been doing this?

Charles:

A good 20 years, 5 of which commercially. In the mid eighties I would come down to Cornwall just snorkelling with the sharks.

Jeff:

Over those 20 years have you noticed any difference in numbers?

Charles:

It’s hard to tell but generally I think they have increased and it seems to be juvenile 3-4 metre sharks we are seeing more of. Where as 20 years ago, you would be seeing more of the 8-9 metre sharks and I can’t really explain why that is.

Jeff:

Any changes in the last 5 years since you have been doing this commercially?

Charles:

Only the weather really. The onset of plankton has come much later as the water has been colder. So instead of the sharks being concentrated over several weeks they are spread out over a several months.

Jeff:

The other week I noticed a small boat harassing a young shark while trying to get close to it. Is there a correct way to approach them?

Charles:

Officially they are a protected species so you should not endanger or harass them in any way. The best way I find is to stay 100 metres or so away and observe how the sharks are behaving and try to predict where the sharks will be in 2 or 3 minutes time. Then that is the place to enter the water if you want to snorkel with them. In this way you are not disturbing the shark’s normal pattern and if you stay still they will swim pass you, often coming back the same way and swimming around in a set pattern. The boat then can remain 50-100 metres away.

Jeff:

How protected are the sharks in the UK?

Charles:

Endangering or harassing the sharks can make you liable to prosecution where the penalties can be quite high, somewhere in the region of £4,000 – £5,000 or 6 months in prison.

Jeff:

How should you act when in the water with the sharks?

Charles:

Once you predict were the shark is going, stay still in the water and let it pass you. If you fin after it then it will probably swim away. They often swim in large circles while feeding and so will come back to you sooner or later.

Jeff:

Are the bigger sharks more approachable?

Charles:

Yes, the larger ones are far less bothered by you being in the water where as the smaller ones around 3 metres or less are more skittish and will swim away.

Jeff:

Is there a future for basking sharks?

Charles:

Yes I think so. We are seeing more each year and the plankton at the moment is looking good. If more countries joined the UK in the protection of these sharks then they could return to a very sustainable population.

 

IMG_3275 600Then, just as we were about to head home, Charles had a call from another boat skipper to say there was a shark just off the rocks near the Minack Theatre. It only took 10 minutes to get there and the shark was still busily feeding in the tide line. The sun was now low and so the light was getting poor underwater but I still had to get in with the shark if possible. With great patience Charles manoeuvred us into a position where he thought the shark would be coming to. I slipped into the water, camera ready. Unfortunately the visibility was not too good but never the less the shark was heading in my direction.  With my face half in, half out of the water I could see the large fin heading straight for me but underwater, not a thing. Then it appeared, only 3 metres away and swimming steadily towards me. No matter how many times I see sharks, it is always a thrill, the excitement of the first encounter, not being too sure if it will come close enough for me take some video, not sure I will spook it and it will turn away. It came closer and I started to film as it glided past me. My excitement rose as I looked into its eye and realised that it was looking directly back at me. Truly a magical moment.

You can find details of trips with Charles at http://charleshood.com/snorkel-with-sharks

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

Marine Life & Conservation

Leading UK-based shark conservation charity, the Shark Trust, is delighted to announce tour operator Diverse Travel as a Corporate Patron

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Corporate Patrons provide a valuable boost to the work of The Shark Trust. The Trust team works globally to safeguard the future of sharks, and their close cousins, the skates and rays, engaging with a global network of scientists, policymakers, conservation professionals, businesses and supporters to further shark conservation.

Specialist tour operator Diverse Travel has operated since 2014 and is committed to offering its guests high quality, sustainable scuba diving holidays worldwide. Working together with the Shark Trust will enable both organisations to widen engagement and encourage divers and snorkellers to actively get involved in shark conservation.

Sharks are truly at the heart of every diver and at Diverse Travel, we absolutely share that passion. There is nothing like seeing a shark in the wild – it’s a moment that stays with you forever!” says Holly Bredin, Sales & Marketing Manager, Diverse Travel.

We’re delighted to celebrate our 10th year of business by becoming a Corporate Patron of the Shark Trust. This is an exciting partnership for Diverse and our guests. We will be donating on behalf of every person who books a holiday with us to contribute towards their vital shark conservation initiatives around the world. We will also be working together with the Trust to inspire divers, snorkellers and other travellers to take an active role – at home and abroad – in citizen science projects and other activities.”

Paul Cox, CEO of The Shark Trust, said:

It’s an exciting partnership and we’re thrilled to be working with Diverse Travel to enable more divers and travellers to get involved with sharks and shark conservation. Sharks face considerable conservation challenges but, through collaboration and collective action, we can secure a brighter future for sharks and their ocean home. This new partnership takes us one more valuable step towards that goal.”

For more information about the Shark Trust visit their website here.

For more about Diverse Travel click here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Trust Asks Divers to help with Shark Sightings this Global Citizen Science Month

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Whether you are stuck for ideas of what to do with the kids or are off on the dive trip of your dreams. You can get involved in Citizen Science Month and help the Shark Trust by providing vital data about sharks are rays both close to home and further afield.

In addition to reporting the sharks and rays you see on your dives, the eggcases you find on the beach, the Shark Trust is looking for some specific data from divers who are asked to report any Oceanic Whitetip and Basking Sharks.

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

The Shark Trust are looking specifically for Oceanic Whitetip Shark sightings over the coming weeks and months. So, if you are diving anywhere in the world, please report your sightings via the website or app.

Website: https://recording.sharktrust.org/

App: Search The Shark Trust in your app store

The Oceanic Whitetip. Known for their incredibly long dorsal and pectoral fins, this species was once the most abundant oceanic-pelagic species of shark on the planet.

Large and stocky, they are grey or brown above, and white below and famous for their huge rounded first dorsal fin and paddle-like pectoral fins. The fins also highly prized within the shark fin trade. Whilst they are mostly solitary, Oceanic Whitetips do occasionally hunt in groups.

An inquisitive species, they were easy prey for fisheries. Combined with their low reproductive rate, they were inevitably at high risk of population depletion. And declines of up to 99% have been reported in certain sea areas. They are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Redlist (2019).

Conservation efforts to discourage further declines include listing on CITES Appendix II and CMS Appendix I. They’re also the only species prohibited from take by all the Tuna RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations). However, these measures do not mean that Oceanic Whitetips are not still caught – whether targeted or as bycatch – in some parts of the world. With populations declining at such a high rate, effective implementation of management measures is essential to ensure that the species can recover.

If you are lucky enough to get an image of an Oceanic Whitetip and you record your sighting on the Shark Trust app or website YOU CAN WIN! All images submitted with sightings, that also give consent to use in conservation messaging, will be in with a chance to win an Oceanic Whitetip T-shirt and mug. The competition will run until the end of “Shark Month” in July – so keep those sightings (and images) coming in.

Basking Sharks

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) season is upon us, and the Shark Trust is asking everyone to keep an eye out for these majestic giants over the summer months. If you see any, you can record your sighting to the Basking Shark Sightings database.

Each year, these mighty fish return to British waters to feed on plankton. You may see one, (or a few if you’re really lucky) from around April-October. They can be seen feeding at the surface of the water, where they look like they’re basking in the sun. Thus, their name!

Sighting hotspots around the British Isles include southwest England, Isle of Man, north coast of Ireland, and western Scotland. The Sea of the Hebrides is the most prolific sightings area in Scotland, but they have been spotted all around the coast and have even ventured into some of the sea lochs. The Shark Trust has received thousands of sightings since the Basking Shark project began, but more data is needed to truly understand what is going on with population numbers and distribution. You can help by recording your sightings this summer.

Great Eggcase Hunt

The Shark Trust has an Easter Egg Hunt with a difference for you to try. Take part in the Great Eggcase Hunt and get involved with a big citizen science project that helps shark, ray and skate conservation. And it’s an enjoyable activity for all the family.

The Shark Trust also want snorkellers and divers to record their underwater eggcase findings. Underwater records help pinpoint exactly where sharks and skates are laying their eggs and can help link to beach records. Learning the depth and substrate that they lay on also helps better understand the species.

Find out more: https://www.sharktrust.org/great-eggcase-hunt

Whether you are diving, snorkelling or exploring on the beach you can take part in Citizen Science Month and get actively involved in shark and ray conservation. Find out more: www.sharktrust.org

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