Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 17:27 UK

Beach lifeguards help shark count

Basking shark
Basking sharks can grow up to 12m (39ft) in length

Lifeguards are helping to record the number of basking sharks in UK waters.

The RNLI beach lifeguards are helping Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) by recording observations of the giant creatures, dolphins and porpoises.

Marine information packs have been given to 58 Cornish units to help lifeguards identify different species.

"After a trial last year involving 12 RNLI lifeguard units, we are now setting up a countywide scheme with the lifeguards," a trust spokesman said.

Mike Langshaw said the trust had been collecting sightings from the public for a number of years as part of its Seaquest project.

They want to know more and are really keen to help
Steve Instance, RNLI

"Although valuable information has been gained, we thought that there were probably a lot more animals being seen, but not being reported to us," he said.

Steve Instance, the RNLI's divisional inspector for lifeguards, said: "Our lifeguards are seeing interesting wildlife all the time.

"They want to know more and are really keen to help do something that will help preserve our marine environment."

Plankton eaters

Seaquest is supported by the BBC Wildlife Fund.

Surveys for CWT's SeaWatch SW recorded 656 basking sharks from Gwennap Head in 2007.

Six species of cetacean were also recorded last year, including a fin whale.

The basking shark is a regular visitor to the Cornish coast but little is understood about the status of their population or about their behaviour.

They do not pose a risk to humans since they eat only plankton, but can grow up to 12m (39ft) in length and weigh up to 7 tonnes.

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