Basking sharks should be around at the moment, although with the continued poor weather you’d be hard pressed to find them! These gentle giants are the second largest fish in the world after the whale shark, growing to around 30ft long. Despite their size they actually eat plankton, which are tiny creatures that gather together along ocean currents. The shark swims into the patches they form with their mouths wide open, filtering the seawater past specialised rakes and out through their gills. These ‘rakers’ collect the plankton and when enough is caught, the shark swallows the mouthful.
Basking sharks are most often seen along the western U.K. coasts between April and September, especially during periods of settled, sunny weather feeding at the surface, where their large dorsal fin and tail fin can be seen above the water – hence their name. During the winter months it is still largely a mystery where basking sharks go, but recent research has suggested that they don’t go too far, perhaps only off to the continental shelf and into the deeper water following their plankton prey.
Be careful though – basking sharks are vulnerable to disturbance and even injury from boats getting to close to them, which is why they are protected by law. If you are out on the water then please use the following best practice guidelines:
• Keep your distance! 100m is close enough, especially if there are other boats nearby. Allow the animal to choose to come to you if it wants to, and pop your engine into neutral if it does to avoid injury.
• Don’t approach directly! Keep off to their sides and don’t come at them head-on.
• Keep your speed down! Basking sharks are large, slow moving creatures that may suddenly panic if they feel they are in danger from boats being to close or moving too fast.