One of the most incredible creatures to inhabit our waters has to be the basking shark. Growing up to 10-12 meters in length the basking shark is the 2nd largest fish in the sea (behind the whale shark) and despite its vast proportions is docile, harmless and majestic.
We are very lucky here in Cornwall as during the spring and early summer we play host to many of these gentle giants. They cruise the coasts, feeding on microscopic zoo-plankton via their colossal gaping mouths and more often the not all within the top 5 meters of the water column, making it quite easy for us to view them.
The other day we had a great encounter with a large specimen of at least 7m and it made me think, ‘I know how to interact with these sharks, but not everyone does’.
So this is a brief code of conduct and spotters guide to Basking sharks.
Finding basking sharks
Basking sharks may be big but the ocean is bigger. Finding them is often quite literally like finding a needle in a haystack but there are some things you can do to increase your chances.
Time of year: Spring time and early summer. When the zoo-plankton bloom due to the warming of the water as the days get longer the basking sharks come to the coast of Cornwall to feed.
Locations: Often found within 1 mile of the coast, basking sharks will hug the coastline in order to hit the densest patches of food. Most sightings tend to be in the far west of Cornwall; Falmouth bay, The roseland penninsula, the Lizard penninsula, lands end and the north coast heading up and beyond Newquay.
Weather: Basking sharks tend to be seen in calm waters. On choppy days they go a little deeper to avoid the turbulence and even if they are on the surface they would be hard to see due to the waves.
Signs of their presence: Look for their enormous dorsal fin breaking the water. Its an evocative sight for sure. You may also see sea birds circling their location.
Code of conduct and viewing tips
- After sighting, try to position yourself so that they come towards you, rather than trying to chase them. Position yourself so they can swim past without changing their course. Enter the water approximately 100m from the shark.
- Be aware that basking sharks will often repeat the same route again and again, passing through areas of plankton.
- If you are in a powered vessel be careful of your prop. As basking sharks will feed near the surface they are very susceptible to prop strikes.
- Keep 4m from the shark.
- Do not attempt to touch the shark.
- If you are a group, keep together and if possible at the surface.
- Do not chase the shark (they are quicker than you anyway!)
- Any attempt to hurt or kill a basking shark can result in a custodial sentence.
- Although they are essentially harmless, their sheer scale can create some dangers. Be careful of their bulk!
Freediving with basking sharks is a magical experience, something you will remember forever. You never know, if you are really lucky, like our students the other week then you may even get to see them on your AIDA 1&2* course!
More information can be found at the shark trust website.