21 June 2005

Warm weather brings Basker Sharks - Look but Don't Touch!

Newspapers have been reporting on the warm weather with glee, splashing coverage of people enjoying the sun across the media, and alongside the people, sharks.

This weekend has seen more hot balmy weather, and as a consequence more of us have flocked to the shore seeking relief in the cool calm waters, basking in the sun and playing in the surf.

The warm, calm conditions cause an aggregation of plankton along thermal fronts in the water column, attracting the basking sharks to feed. More people in the water over the warm weather and calmer seas making the fins easier to spot, have meant basking shark sightings have soared. Pictures of people swimming with, and even touching these gentle giants have been all over the weekends press.

Although the Shark Trust welcomes reports of basking shark sightings, we are concerned about irresponsible human shark interactions. Getting too close to these beautiful and enormous creatures could cause disturbance or injury to the sharks, and although not harmful, their sheer size makes the need for caution around them necessary. An ill-timed tail-flick can cause serious injury to the well-intentioned swimmer.

The Shark Trust produces a code of contact to advise readers how to interact safely and responsibly with basking sharks and is encouraging beach users who come into contact with these animals to adhere to this code. Basking sharks are protected under UK law and it is illegal to come into direct contact or knowingly harass these animals in any way. Those caught doing so face a heavy fine and the possibility of a six month prison sentence.

Basking sharks are migratory and follow the thermal front containing the plankton aggregations northwards from Cornwall to the west coast of Scotland, but it seems changing sea temperatures are now causing this to happen earlier. The Marine Conservation Society reports a 65% increase in sightings off the west coast of Scotland and a 66% decrease in South West England in the last four years. Dr Jean-Luc Solent, MCS biodiversity policy officer, said:

"We already know that rising sea temperatures are affecting the distribution of plankton in UK waters and may in fact be making Scottish seas more favourable for the sharks,"

Swimming with Basking Sharks.
If in the water with basking sharks the Shark Trust recommends swimmers take the following precautions

Do not try to TOUCH the sharks
  • Keep your distance. Stay more than 4 meters away from them and be wary of the tail
  • Groups of swimmers Must stay together and ideally stay at the surface.
  • Avoid entering the water if visibility is less than 4 meters.
  • Restrict the number of swimmers in the water at any one time to 4
  • Avoid flash photography which could scare the sharks
  • Do not use underwater propelled devices

    Copies of the Shark Trust Basking Shark code of conduct can be obtained by sending a stamped addressed envelope to the Shark Trust. Rope Walk Coxside, Plymouth, PL4 OLF, UK

    Source: SharksTrust


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