Shark spotted by kayaker off St Abbs

A VISITING kayaker made quite a discovery on Monday when he spotted a basking shark in the sea off St Abbs Head.

Monday, 8th August 2011, 7:59 am

The man was in the water at around 10am when he saw the shark which he estimated at being at least 15ft long as it was bigger than his kayak.

On returning to shore he quickly alerted St Abb and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve and Ranger Georgia Conolly was excited at the sighting as basking sharks aren’t really known for frequenting the Berwickshire coast.

She commented: “A lot of sightings of that particular breed of shark are made on the west coast although sightings of basking sharks in general have declined in recent years due to over fishing.

“It’s very rare to see one on the east coast as they prefer water temperatures of around 14 degrees and it’s certainly not that warm here!

“Basking sharks are very much a migratory speces but little is known about where they actually migrate too. They have been known to go up to 900 metres underwater to search for plankton and it may be that this particular shark was heading north in search of food.”

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest living fish, after the whale shark. It is often mistaken for the great white shark but the two can be easily distinguished due to the basking shark’s greatly enlarged mouth, with its jaw stretching up to a metre in width.

The largest accurately-measured specimen was trapped in a herring net in the Bay of Fundy, Canada in 1851. Its total length was 12.27 metres (40.3 ft), and it weighed an estimated 19 short tonnes.

There are dubious reports from Norway of three basking sharks over 12 metres (39ft), the largest at 13.7 metres (45ft), dubious because few near that size have been caught in the area since.

Normally the basking shark reaches a length of between six metres (20ft) and a little over eight metres (26 ft). Some specimens surpass nine to 10 metres (30–33ft), but after years of large-scale fishing, specimens of this size have become rare.

Monday’s sighting wasn’t the first time a basking shark has been spotted in these parts, one was seen last summer and Georgia is hoping there’s a chance a shark might be spotted when the Reserve carry out their ‘Whale & Dolphin Watch’ this Sunday, August 7.

She continued: “Basking sharks pose no threat to humans so nobody has anything to worry about, they are not aggressive creatures and are totally harmless. We’ve got some really good conditions out there at the moment as the sea is very flat. I’m hoping that we’ll see plenty of whales and dolphins at the weekend and hopefully a basking shark or two!”

Anyone wanting to take part in Sunday’s watch should go along to St Abbs Lighthouse between 11am and 4pm.