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Last Updated: Friday, 16 September 2005, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
More sharks in Scotland's waters
A basking shark spotted off Mull

The number of basking sharks spotted in Scottish waters has risen steeply again, latest figures show.

Survey results for 2005 revealed that, out of 180 sharks spotted over a 10-week period, 172 were sighted in Scottish waters.

The study was carried out by The Wildlife Trust's Basking Shark Project.

Sightings have shot up over the last few years and experts believe climate change is a factor, with the sharks following plankton from warmer seas.

In 2003, just 40 basking sharks were spotted off the Scottish coast.

But over the same period last year, 120 basking sharks were spotted, with 106 of them in Scottish waters.

The survey boat covers the English Channel, the Irish Sea, the Firth of Clyde and the Hebrides before working its way down the west coast back to Plymouth.

Scotland's seas provide a valuable food source for many different species
Laura Bateson
Marine officer for Scotland

These sightings of the 11-metre long fish in Scottish waters are in stark contrast to other marine species which have dwindled across Scotland in the past year.

Earlier this month, a report indicated that seabirds had suffered one of the worst breeding seasons on record, with major failures of certain species, particularly in the west coast reserves such as Tiree, St Kilda and Canna.

It is thought this slump could be due to a lack of sandeels, which the birds feed on.

The skipper of the survey boat, Colin Speedie, said: "Despite the devastating year for seabirds and other marine creatures in Scotland, basking sharks seem to have benefited from the abundance and quality of their main food source - plankton - and are following their food supply.

"Although there are a number of reasons that could have caused this availability, climate change does factor here, as the warmer currents south of the border are pushing the plankton northwards."

'Eerily silent'

Laura Bateson, joint marine programme officer for Scotland, said: "Scotland's seas provide a valuable food source for many different species.

"The lack of sandeels in our seas has had a massively destructive effect on seabird populations, but more widely on the whole of the dependent food chain.

"The seas on the west coast of Scotland, normally teeming with seabirds, have become eerily silent with sightings of minke whales and even the normally common porpoises more rare this year."

Basking sharks, along with 23 species of whales and dolphins, are part of 44,000 species supported by Scotland's coast and seas.

They can weigh more than five tonnes and can filter sea water equivalent to that held in an Olympic-sized swimming pool every hour.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has joined forces with WWF Scotland to promote the protection of species such as the basking shark.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See footage of the basking shark in the Inner Hebrides



SEE ALSO:
New marine park proposals floated
15 Jun 05 |  Scotland
'UK seas are in crisis' says WWF
18 Jan 05 |  Science/Nature
Scotland tops basking shark sweep
14 Sep 04 |  Scotland
Basking shark survey sails again
30 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature
Councils call for tanker ban
18 Aug 03 |  Scotland
Marine life protection plan
24 Feb 00 |  Scotland


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