Marine experts have criticised people who snapped wobbly film footage which, it was claimed, was evidence of a Great White shark swimming in Cornish waters.
The Marine Conservation Society said that not only was the creature in question obviously a basking shark, but the person who caught it on film was clearly too close to a protected species.
“Basking sharks are large, wild and unpredictable animals that are protected under UK law from reckless disturbance, so boat users are obliged to keep a safe distance from them,” said Peter Richardson of the MCS who is also a post-graduate student at the University of Exeter’s Tremough Campus at Penryn.
“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. That sort of behaviour is dangerous, irresponsible and entirely unacceptable.”
The strong words came after a survey conducted from the air at the weekend, which found basking sharks were blossoming in the waters around the South West. In just two hours around South West Cornwall, the MCS spotted 18 basking sharks.
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.
“It is wonderful to witness the return of these spectacular animals around our coastline,” said Mr Richardson, the MCS Species Policy Officer.
“During the aerial survey we also saw common dolphins, which, along with the basking sharks have been mistaken for Great Whites during the recent media feeding frenzy. We didn’t expect to see Great White sharks and needless to say we didn’t spot any.”
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.
Dr Ruth Leeney, researcher at the Tremough 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.”