Chilly UK seas could be keeping basking sharks away
Slow start to spotting season as plankton fails to bloom in cooler waters
Basking sharks, which can grow to the size of a double decker bus, appear to be giving UK seas the cold shoulder probably because the water temperature here is lower than usual at this time of year.
The MCS Basking Shark Watch, the biggest database of publicly reported sightings in the world, has received hardly any reports so far this year and it could be down to the chillier waters.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Senior Biodiversity Officer, says even a few degrees can make a difference: "Divers are telling us that the water temperature is 10 or 11 degrees centigrade. But at this time of the year it should be nearer 13 degrees. This means that the plankton, which is the basking sharks favourite food and the reason they come to our waters, are not blooming in the usual quantities so basking sharks are staying in warmer seas to feed."
MCS says that despite the seemingly slow start to the 2013 basking shark spotting season, we can expect to see a number of these gentle giants visiting our seas in the coming months.
Last year over 170 sightings were reported to the charity via its website: www.mcsuk.org/sightings
"Although the basking shark is the world's second largest fish after the whale shark, if you haven't seen one before it can be quite tricky to work out if what you've just spotted is in fact a basker," says Dr Solandt.
MCS says there three clear signs that will tell you it's a basking shark:
*A large broad dorsal fin and sweeping tail fin breaking the surface - the distance between them indicates approximately half the size of the shark
*Snout often breaking the surface when feeding.
*If you're close up, you'll see the wide circular gaping mouth clearly visible when feeding.
Dolphins and porpoises tend to show more of their backs when breathing at the surface, and will have a more regular 'arcing' pattern of movement as they raise their bodies briefly above the water.
MCS says it's important that the location of these creatures continues to be mapped to help scientists and conservationists discover more about their lives and ensure they continue to thrive in our waters. Dr Solandt says: "With so many people carrying smart phones these days, it's easy to go straight to our website (www.mcsuk.org), record your sighting and take a picture and upload it directly to our Facebook or Twitter pages www.facebook.com/mcsuk and www.twitter.com/mcsuk , all within moments of seeing a basking shark."
In collaboration with the Shark Trust, MCS has produced the Basking Shark Code of Conduct, which provides clear guidance on how the public can behave safely around basking sharks. You can find out more at www.mcsuk.org