Do basking sharks attack humans, where are they in the UK and what size do they grow to?


BASKING sharks – the second largest fish in the world – are a terrifying sight in the waters off the British coast.

But are they dangerous to humans, and where are you likely to encounter one? Here’s our guide.

This huge basking shark was photographed off the Isle of Coll, Scotland
Alamy

What are basking sharks and how big are they?

Basking sharks are the second largest species of fish, after whale sharks.

Grey-brown adults grow to an average of 20-26ft and weigh five tons but they can be much bigger.

The largest accurately measured was caught in Canada in 1851 and weighed 16 tons. It was 40.3ft (12.27m) long.

Specimens longer than 33ft are rarely seen these days because over-fishing has reduced their numbers.

Basking sharks have enormous mouths more than three feet wide, with jaws that stretch open as they feed in shallow waters close to shore.

Their babies are huge as well. They are born live, measuring five or six feet long, after a gestation thought to last from one to three years.

They are a protected red list species, considered vulnerable worldwide and endangered in the North East Atlantic.

Where are basking sharks in the UK?

Basking sharks are among the most commonly seen of the UK’s 40 shark species.

That is partly because they are so large and also because they often go close to shore, almost to the surf line.

They follow plankton on sea currents, which means they often feed at the surface.

They are particularly fond of headlands, islands islands and inlets with strong tidal flows where they might find food.

Basking sharks migrate here every summer and are found all round the British Isles from the English Channel to the far north of Scotland.

They are mostly solitary but schools have been seen gathering in the Hebrides.

In April a 25ft monster was photographed circling a kayaker feet from the shore near Porthcurno, Cornwall.

Father-and-son fishermen had a close encounter with a massive specimen that circled their small boat near Eastbourne, East Sussex, in May.

In June 2017 sea kayakers were surrounded by seven huge basking sharks off the Isle of Man, which sees large numbers every year.

And another 25ft beast washed up dead, floating belly-up in April 2017 near Mevagissey, Cornwall.

The county is the UK’s shark hot spot, home to 21 species and where most sightings occur.

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Are basking sharks dangerous to humans?

Basking sharks are passive filter feeders that feast mostly on tiny crustaceans called plankton.

They are slow-moving, usually swimming at around 2mph, and do not get out of the way of boats as faster sharks do.

Unlike fearsome great whites, basking sharks have relatively small hooked teeth around 1/4 inch (6mm) long which are mostly useless.

They do not bite their prey, so are extremely unlikely to attack a human.

However their massive size means swimmers should not get too close.

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