There are large numbers of basking sharks and some dolphins off the Cornwall coast but no fearsome great white sharks, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said today.
The MCS carried out an aerial survey at the weekend and in two hours on Friday spotted 18 basking sharks, the second largest fish in the sea.
The National Coastwatch Institution at Bass Point, Lizard, also reported 19 sharks and Seawatch recorded 14 shark sightings at Gwennap Head near Land’s End.
There have been numerous great white sightings reported by holidaymakers during the summer, although none were confirmed and most discredited by experts.
The MCS said that the excitement generated by the claims actually put basking sharks in danger as people were taking their boats too close to see what species of shark they were.
Peter Richardson, MCS species policy officer, said: “During the aerial survey we also saw common dolphins, which, along with the basking sharks have been mistaken for great white sharks during the recent media feeding frenzy.
“MCS was alarmed to see the recent footage that some newspapers claimed was film of a great white shark.
“The footage clearly shows a boat getting too close to a basking shark and almost going over the top of it, risking serious injury to the shark and those on board.”
The aerial surveys are funded by the European Social Fund, with additional support from MCS.
The survey, carried out with the University of Exeter, also detected sunfish, and previous surveys have recorded bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises and grey seals.
Through the aerial surveys, the team hopes to understand the distribution of the different species of wildlife using Cornwall’s waters, and also inform the local marine wildlife watching industry that is fast becoming a local tourism attraction.
Dr Ruth Leeney, researcher at the University of Exeter Cornwall Campus, said: “These basking shark sightings indicate that Cornish waters are an important summer hotspot for this protected species.
“Basking sharks have become a significant tourist attraction for Cornwall, but anyone wishing to see these amazing animals should go with an accredited wildlife watching trip in order to avoid unnecessary and illegal disturbance to them.”
The basking shark is the second largest fish in the sea, growing in excess of 11 metres and weighing up to seven tonnes.
They are regular visitors to British coasts, where each summer they return to feed on inshore plankton blooms.
Since 1987, MCS has run a separate project Basking Shark Watch, which encourages public reporting of basking sharks.
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