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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August 2003, 05:38 GMT 06:38 UK
Basking shark numbers boost
Reported sightings of basking sharks in Scotland have taken a huge leap, according to scientists.

There have been 37 sharks sighted north of the border this year - a massive increase on the single sighting 12 months ago.

UK-wide research conducted by the Wildlife Trust this year has so far yielded over 255 new basking shark images on its new database.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust research aims to identify sites of importance and help safeguard the threatened species.

The basking shark population is still recovering from the over-hunting that devastated populations last century
Steve Sankey
Scottish Wildlife Trust
The database has put researchers on first name terms with some of the basking sharks.

It categorises the sharks by pigmentation, scarring, shape and scar ratio.

Steve Sankey, Scottish Wildlife Trust chief executive, said: "Last year's survey was distinguished, if that is the word, by the lack of sightings in Scottish waters.

"This year has been much more encouraging but we cannot afford to be at all complacent.

"The basking shark population is still recovering from the over-hunting that devastated populations last century."

'Unique resource'

Basking sharks face the dangers of collisions with boats, marine pollution and entanglement in fishing nets.

Mr Sankey added: "There are huge financial interests at stake too. Each year, the coastal economy generates 1.7bn of revenue for Scotland.

"It's vital we protect this unique resource from exploitation and pollution by managing it sustainably and for the long-term future."

He called for a Marine Act to protect basking shark numbers.

Colin Speedie, skipper of survey boat Forever Changes, said the database had been an effective research tool.

He said: "In one case, we found a 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 survey is being supported by National Express Group and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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