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The BBC's Louise Elliott
"Despite its size and power this huge creature is known as the gentle giant of the ocean"
 real 56k

Sunday, 25 February, 2001, 01:11 GMT
UK seeks to save basking shark
Basking shark
Basking sharks are harmless but still endangered
They are often described as gentle giants of the sea, but the harmless basking shark remains a globally endangered species.

Now, the UK Government will demand restrictions on the international trade in the sharks in an effort to protect them.

Talks will take place at the next round of worldwide wildlife trade negotiations in Chile next year, Environment Minister Michael Meacher has confirmed.

The government has also pledged a 215,000 package of research funding to support the bid.

UK's largest

Growing up to about eight metres in length, the basking shark is the largest fish to be found around the UK's coastline.

Unfortunately, rapid population decline has been recorded in recent years.

Although the species is already protected in British waters, the government is concerned its slow breeding cycle and high value puts it in worldwide danger from fishing and accidental "by-catch", and that it needs more protection.

Basking sharks are valuable because its dried fins will sell for about 200 per kilo, with large fins worth more than 10,000 each.

Apart from the population decline, relatively little is known about the basking shark, and the DETR's 215,000 funding pledge will help plug some of the gaps in scientists' knowledge.

Needless deaths

About 70,000 will be used to boost the IUCN's (World Conservation Union) Species Survival Commission's Shark Specialist Group by helping to pay for a programme officer to co-ordinate the group's work for three years.

The remaining 145,000 will fund research to assess population structures, dynamics and movements, and will help cut needless deaths and encourage the recovery of the species.

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) will carry out the research. Both CEFAS and the Marine Biological Association will match the DETR's 145,000.

The total research funding package of 435,000 should generate reliable data on the international trade in basking sharks.

It should also support the UK's bid to place the basking shark on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which will be updated at a meeting in Chile next year.

Data tags

As part of the research, scientists will fit small data-gathering tags to the sharks.

The devices, which are the size of a large cigar, will record water temperature, depth and light levels, and will give a much better idea of the sharks' movements and habits.

The tags automatically drop off after a short time, float to the surface and send their data back to the UK via satellite.

In the future, it is also possible the transmitters will use mobile phone networks, experts say.

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See also:

22 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Sharks endangered by fin trade
09 Feb 01 | Americas
Shark attacks at record high
19 Jan 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Swimming With Sharks
25 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Better news for basking sharks
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