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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Increase in shark sightings
Basking shark
Basking shark populations have been decimated by over-hunting
Research into basking shark numbers has revealed a big increase in sightings of the creature.

The latest study by the Marine Conservation Society and the UK's wildlife trusts said research has shown the sharks have been spotted 37 times in British waters this year, compared with only one sighting last year.

The society says the species is recovering from the over-hunting which devastated the shark population during the 20th Century.

The creature was hunted for its highly-valued gigantic dorsal fin, which is a delicacy in the Far East.

The really great thing has been to see and record them in such numbers
Colin Speedie
The news comes as a Cornwall-based boat gets ready to finish its nationwide survey of the 40-foot (12 metre) seven-ton creatures, which it started in July.

Falmouth-based yacht the Forever Changes will compete its survey at the end of September.

Its research has been aiming to identify sites of key importance and provide behavioural knowledge, vital in helping to safeguard the threatened species.

The survey, supported by the National Express group and the Heritage Lottery Fund, has also been boosted this year by the development of a database containing more than 255 new basking shark images that have shed new light on the lives of the creatures.

Speaking on the survey and database, Forever Changes skipper Colin Speedie said: "The database has allowed us to identify individuals accurately for the first time.

"In one case, we found one basking shark that had been spotted off Cornwall being next sighted off the coast of the West of Ireland, which just shows how far they can and do roam.

"The really great thing about this year has of course been to see and record them in such numbers."

The Marine Conservation Society says such sightings show the basking shark population is starting to recover after being devastated by over-hunting and fishing during the last century.

But while hunting is now banned, the basking shark is still at risk from collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing nets and changes in sea temperatures due to climate change.

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