Southern Cornwall is reportedly on the verge of its annual basking shark invasion, following the appearance of plankton blooms and, at the end of April, the arrival of sharks in Penzance Bay.
Phil Hazel, a director of Gulfstream Scuba of Hayle, told Divernet: â€œWe have had a number of sightings of big basking sharks lately, including a 20ft monster that was within a few feet of the boat.â€? He added that divers had also enjoyed seeing a wealth of harbour porpoises and â€œa big pod â€“ around 10 â€“ of very athletic Atlantic bottlenose dolphinsâ€?.
On 5 May, Barry Andrew, an instructor at the centre, told Divernet he expected the basking sharks to turn up in increasing numbers.
â€œWeâ€™ve got the plankton now and, once there have been a few early-season reports of basking sharks, generally that marks the beginning of regular visits over a number of weeks,â€? he said.
The basking shark, a filter feeder, grows typically to between 3m and 9m in length. It has been protected from intentional capture or harassment in British waters since 1998, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
The Marine Conservation Society and The Shark Trust have been instrumental in campaigning for the baskerâ€™s protection. British measures apart, they now support broader action under European law. The basker is the Mediterraneanâ€™s largest fish â€“ great white sharks notwithstanding.
In 2002, the basking shark was listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to protect animals caught and traded between nations.
The MCS has run a British-waters data-gathering programme, Basking Shark Watch, since 1987. Report forms are available by ringing the Society on 01989 566017, or visiting its website.
When encountering a basking shark, ambling slowly at the surface as it gathers up plankton, divers and other water users are asked to give it a fair berth to avoid disturbance.
Boat crews, particularly of fast, planing craft, are asked to proceed carefully in waters where baskers are known to be appearing. A number of the animals have been recorded with badly scarred backs, evidence of contact with boatsâ€™ hulls or props.
Related links Basker! Hit the Hot-spots Marine Conservation Society The Shark Trust