Page last updated at 04:53 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 05:53 UK

Sharks basking in the limelight

By Alex Bushill
BBC News


Underwater filming captures sharks' arrival. Video courtesy Dan Burton Photo.

It has been described as one of the most spectacular wildlife sights anywhere in the world - let alone Britain.

In the last week the first basking sharks of the summer have been spotted off the Cornish coast.

As part of their annual migration they are now arriving in their hundreds.

But do not be fooled - actually catching more than a fleeting glimpse of these elusive creatures is far harder than you imagine.

Trying to find a basking shark is to go in search of a mystery. We know very little about them, except that at this time of year, and without fail, they come to Cornwall in their hundreds.

In the last week, they have begun arriving off the West Cornish coast.

Rare sightings

It is the least a small band of hardy volunteers from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust deserve.

Since the beginning of June they have been here from dawn to dusk every day hoping for that rare glimpse of this enormous fish.

Over the last few years they're turning up at more or less exactly the same time every year
Richard Pierce, Shark Trust

On the afternoon I caught up with them at Sennen Cove, nearLand's End, I was blessed with not one but two sightings - their distinctive dorsal fin clear to see.

For the chairman of the Shark Trust, Richard Pierce, their arrival here every year is nothing if not consistent.

He said: "I don't suppose you could set your watch by them, but really pretty nearly.

"Over the last few years they're turning up at more or less exactly the same time every year.

"We start to see them in the south of the county first. Then there tends to be a general movement up the western side of the British Isles."

There is no doubting the views from the cliff around Sennen Cove.

But for a fish's eye view of this magnificent creatures you really need to be underwater - which is exactly where Dan Burton was on Wednesday of last week.

The result? Some unrivalled footage of basking sharks arriving here to feed on clouds of plankton.

His footage gives us a rare glimpse, up close and personal, with these giants of our seas.


He filmed what must be one of the first sharks to arrive here, its cavernous jaws wide open.

The irony is that this harmless fish uses a giant mouth to feed on tiny plankton.

It is that sense of spectacle that could prove profitable for the local economy. Fishermen like Rory Goodall run guided boat tours from the harbour in Penzance, weather permitting.

Basking sharks [Pic: Dan Burton Photo]
Basking sharks feed on plankton [Pic: Dan Burton Photo]

It may have been a washout on the day he promised to take me out - but he tells me it is not just the basking sharks on offer.

"We've got tropical animals coming up like the Ocean Sunfish. We've got whales of various kinds including orca killer whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals - a whole plethora of wildlife, even down to rare jellyfish.

"So Cornwall is the place for eco-tourism".

But with a basking shark like this weighing up to seven tonnes, there's no doubting who the big draw is.

It may be wet and windy - but that does not seem to bother either the spotters or the sharks themselves.

They have got other things on their mind. It is now thought they come here to pair up and procreate.

Print Sponsor

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