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Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Monday, 14 June 2010 13:32 UK
Do Not Disturb guides for South West basking sharks
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Basking shark
Basking sharks can often be seen around the South West coast in summer

The next time you are walking along the South West coastline, keep your eyes peeled for one of the welcome summer visitors to our coastal waters.

Basking sharks are known to use the waters around Devon and Cornwall for feeding during the summer months.

They often come into Plymouth Sound in search of plankton and The Hoe is a great vantage point to see them.

However, there are fears that these big but harmless creatures are being scared off by water users.

There have been reports of sharks being accidentally hit by boats and jet-skis by people getting too close to see the creatures.

Basking shark
Basking sharks visit our waters to feed on plankton

Now, the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth has teamed up with the Shark Trust to produce 20,000 Code of Conduct guides, to advise the public on how to observe but not disturb basking sharks.

"You don't need to get up close to these magnificent animals to appreciate their beauty," said Dr David Gibson, managing director of the National Marine Aquarium.

"At this time of year, The Hoe makes an excellent vantage point if you have a pair of binoculars and a bit of patience."

Reaching up to 11 metres, basking sharks are the largest fish in British waters - but not much is known about their habits, making conservation measures difficult for this internationally endangered species.

"Despite their size we still know very little about this enigmatic and secretive animal," said Dr Gibson.

basking sharks off the coast
Conservationists want your photos of basking sharks

"We hope that by working with the Shark Trust we will gain important insights into this fascinating species. We are totally supportive of this code as sea animals - especially those in our native waters - deserve the utmost protection."

The 20,000 guides are being distributed free of charge around the UK and Ireland.

As well as information on the species, the guide contains a Code of Conduct poster for water users which aims to ensure safe interaction between human and shark.

Whilst Basking Sharks are not normally referred to as dangerous, their sheer size and potential power makes them creatures to be treated with respect and caution.

The population of basking sharks has declined as a result of hunting - their fins are highly valuable, and they have also been hunted for their liver oil in the past.

To help build up a better picture of their number, behaviour and movements, the European Basking Shark Photo ID project has been created.

You can take part in the project by submitting your photos of basking sharks to the Basking Shark Project website.

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