Aerial survey finds sharks in Cornwall's waters (but
no great whites!)
Recent surveys around Cornwall's coast have revealed
the presence of large numbers of giant basking sharks. Scientists
from the University of Exeter's Tremough Campus and
Marine Conservation Society (MCS) spotted 18 sharks off south-west
Cornwall in just two hours on Friday 10 August.
"It is wonderful to witness the return of these
spectacular animals around our coastline," said
Peter Richardson, MCS Species Policy Officer and post-graduate
student at the University of Exeter's Tremough Campus.
"During the aerial survey we also saw common dolphins,
which, along with the basking sharks have been mistaken for
great white sharks during the recent media feeding frenzy.
We didn't expect to see great white sharks and needless
to say we didn't spot any!"
The University of Exeter and MCS aerial surveys are invested
in by Objective One through the European Social Fund, with
additional support from MCS and PADI Project AWARE. Friday's
aerial survey also detected sunfish, and previous surveys
have recorded bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises and grey
seals. Through the aerial surveys, the team hopes to understand
the distribution and seasonality of the different species
of wildlife using Cornwall's waters, and also inform
the local marine wildlife watching industry that is fast becoming
a local tourism attraction.
"These basking shark sightings indicate that Cornish
waters are an important summer hotspot for this protected
species. Basking sharks have become a significant tourist
attraction for Cornwall, but anyone wishing to see these amazing
animals should go with a WiSe-accredited wildlife watching
trip in order to avoid unnecessary and illegal disturbance
to them," said Dr Ruth Leeney, researcher at the
University of Exeter's Tremough Campus.
The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest
fish in the sea, much larger than a great white, growing in
excess of 11m and weighing up to 7 tonnes. They are regular
visitors to British coasts, where each summer they return
to feed harmlessly on inshore plankton blooms. Since 1987,
MCS has run a separate project, 'Basking Shark Watch',
which encourages public reporting of basking sharks. In the
last 20 years MCS has accumulated over 10,500 public sightings
of basking sharks in UK waters, but no confirmed reports of
great white sharks. Last week, MCS Basking Shark Watch received
several basking shark reports from Cornish waters, with one
sailor reporting large groups of sharks between Land's
End and the Scilly Isles on Thursday. On Friday observers
at the National Coastwatch Institution at Bass Point, Lizard
saw 19 sharks, while over the weekend Seawatch SW recorded
14 shark sightings at Gwennap Head near Land's End.
Basking sharks are protected under national law and while
MCS encourages the public to report their sightings, they
also warn people not to get too close to the gentle giants.
For more information or photographs contact Peter Richardson,
Species Policy Officer, Marine Conservation Society (MCS)
telephone 01989 566017/ 07793 118383 or email firstname.lastname@example.org;
or Sarah Hoyle, Press Officer, University of Exeter, telephone
01392 262062 or email email@example.com.
The Objective One Programme for Cornwall and the
Isles of Scilly has invested in the Combined Universities
in Cornwall (CUC) project, both Phase 1 and Phase 2, through
the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European
Social Fund (ESF). University of Exeter is a partner of the
The £100 million Tremough Campus is a Combined Universities
in Cornwall initiative of which the University of Exeter and
University College Falmouth are two of the founding partners.
It is funded mainly by the European Union (Objective One),
the South West Regional Development Agency, and the Higher
Education Funding Council for England, with support from Cornwall
County Council. Set in 70 acres of countryside, but close
to the waterside towns of Penryn and Falmouth, the campus
offers a lively student community. The University of Exeter
now offers degrees in Biology, Cornish Studies, English, Geology,
Geography, History, Law, Mining Engineering, Politics and
Renewable Energy on its Tremough Campus, which has expanded
rapidly as part of the Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is
the UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores
and wildlife. MCS campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable
fisheries, protection of marine life and their habitats, and
the sensitive use of our marine resources for future generations.
Through education, community involvement and collaboration,
MCS raises awareness of the many threats that face our seas
and promotes individual, industry and government action to
protect the marine environment. MCS provides information and
guidance on many aspects of marine conservation and produces
the annual Good Beach Guide (www.goodbeachguide.co.uk),
the Good Fish Guide and www.fishonline.org
on sustainable seafood, as well as promoting public participation
in volunteer projects and surveys such as Beachwatch, Adopt-a-Beach
and Basking Shark Watch. MCS Basking Shark Watch has been
running since 1987. Anyone who wants to participate in Basking
Shark Watch can also contact MCS to receive free sightings
report cards and posters, or report sightings online at www.mcsuk.org.
Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest
fish in the sea. The species' name refers to its habit
of swimming just beneath the sea surface, as if basking in
the sun. The basking shark is primarily coastal-pelagic, occurring
in the temperate waters of continental shelves of the Atlantic
and Indo-Pacific Oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea. The species
is migratory, and makes highly seasonal appearances around
the UK, usually between April and October. It is most commonly
sighted off the coasts of Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Scotland.
No estimates presently exist for global or regional population
sizes. The basking shark's surface feeding habit, large
size and slow swimming speed make this species highly vulnerable
to human-induced mortality from bycatch, boat strike and disturbance.
The basking shark is afforded full protection in UK waters
under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
The National Coastwatch Institute is a voluntary organisation
that runs several coastal observation points along the Cornish
coast, where observers keep a look out for sea-users in distress
in order to more quickly facilitate their rescue. For more
information see www.destination-cornwall.co.uk/NCI/NCI-Welcome.htm.
The SeaWatch SW Project is an exciting new initiative designed
to collect important information about some of the UK's
most threatened marine animals, including Basking Sharks,
Ocean Sunfish and the critically endangered Balearic Shearwater.
The results will provide new insights into the occurrence
and behaviour of these species around our coasts, and how
we can protect them while they visit our waters. The project
is entirely volunteer-based, and is being supported by a number
of major conservation and scientific organisations, including
the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS), the
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Marine
Conservation Society (MCS). For more information see www.seawatch-sw.org.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) is a partner in the coalition
of The Wildlife Trusts, 47 local Trusts throughout the UK,
which form the leading charitable conservation body exclusively
dedicated to wildlife. CWT is a registered charity with offices
in Truro, and manages nature reserves and volunteers throughout
the whole of the county. CWT organises a wide range of wildlife-related
events and activities. CWT believes that involving people
in our work is essential to the future of nature conservation
in Cornwall. For more information contact Ruth Williams or
Joana Doyle, Marine Conservation Officers, Cornwall Wildlife
Trust on tel: 01872 240777, www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.
The WiSe scheme has been set up to deliver training and accreditation
for operators of registered passenger and charter vessels
who wish to view marine wildlife. Nearly 500 operators/marine
professionals have now been trained. All WiSe operators have
attended and passed a course designed to ensure they have
an understanding of how to approach marine wildlife, and how
to minimise any disturbance to those animals. For more information
Media Relations Manager
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