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Saturday, May 16, 1998 Published at 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK


Basking in Cornish waters

Up to 500 basking sharks have gathered off the Cornish coast, amazing wildlife experts, and forcing some fishermen to head for shore.

The sharks gathered off Coverack on the Lizard in numbers never before seen in the UK. It is thought that they had followed the plankton on which they feed.

Stella Turk, a spokeswoman for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: "If that number was correct, it would be phenomenal."

Basking sharks are often seen in UK inshore waters in the summer months because they arrive to breed, but the largest number of sharks previously recorded by the Trust was 50 in 1994.

Basking sharks are harmless but there were so many of them that many local fishermen were forced to head for port. "The animals can be up to 35ft long, and even if a smaller one surfaced under a boat, it could be dangerous," said Ms Turk.

"I have never heard of fishing boats coming in before," she said.

Another trust member and basking shark expert, Colin Speedie, said: "This is really quite amazing. We have never known this happen before in Cornwall."

The huge fins of the sharks could clearly be seen from the shore, and at one point six of the fish could be seen basking just 200 metres off Kennack Sands beach.

The Wildlife Trust, which called the gathering a "wildlife spectacular unique in Cornwall", also reported killer whales being spotted from the Scillonian ferry and Porthgwarra, near Land's End.

Three of the creatures, including a very large male, were spotted off Land's End, said the Trust.

The lives of basking sharks, the second biggest fish in the world, are a mystery to conservationists.

Unlike marine mammals such as whales and dolphins, sharks do not need to surface and are difficult to track.

The sharks are under threat from the Oriental trade in shark fins and demand for their liver oil.

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