Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Sharks head west to look for mate

Basking shark seen off the west coast of Scotland
The waters off the west coast are a key area for mating basking sharks

The west coast has been identified as a key area for amorous basking sharks, according to a report by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

SHN said Gunna Sound, between Coll and Tiree and the seas around Canna, are important sites for basking sharks looking for a mate.

During courtship, the sharks swim in a trance-like state, at the surface of the water, making them vulnerable.

SNH said they are asking local boat users to help protect the fish.

The two spots had four-times as many basking sharks - the second largest fish in the world - than anywhere else in the UK, during a survey between 2002 and 2006.

Mating hotspots

On one day in July 2006, 83 sharks were seen around Canna and in August 2005, 94 were seen in the water around Coll.

Displays of shark courtship, such as breaching, where the shark leaps out of the water, suggests that both Inner Hebridean areas are key for the species when mating.

The Wildlife Trusts' Basking Shark Project was set up to find ways to protect the fish because so little is known about them.

The information will be used to consider what action could be taken to look after basking sharks in light of climate change, offshore developments, fisheries or marine tourism, as the Marine (Scotland) Bill makes its way through parliament.

We must give them every chance to thrive, safe from accidents with boat traffic and fishing gear
Dr Rebecca Boyd
Scottish Wildlife Trust

Dr Rebecca Boyd, marine policy officer with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: "It is excellent news that these giant sharks seem to be finally making a comeback, and that Scotland has clearly become so important to them for feeding and mating.

"We must give them every chance to thrive, safe from accidents with boat traffic and fishing gear."

A spokeswoman for SNH, Suzanne Henderson, said: "It is very exciting to find out that the west coast of Scotland is one of the best places to spot these majestic animals.

"The figures show how important these sites are nationally, and possibly globally.

"Although basking sharks appear to concentrate in the hotspots they can also be seen at many other places round Scotland.

"More remote areas of Scotland have not been surveyed in great detail so other important sites may yet lie undiscovered."

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