Basking shark fishery on Soay

The naturalist Gavin Maxwell is best known for his work with otters, and as author of Ring of Bright Water, but he also tried to set up a basking shark fishery on the Island of Soay off the coast of Skye in the late 1940s, leading to a serious drop in the numbers of these animals in the surrounding seas, from which they are only beginning to recover. The unsuccessful venture is described in his book Harpoon at a Venture (1952). Different times.

You can visit the ghostly remains of the basking shark fishing station in Soay Harbour today.
It operated between 1945 and 1948, when it collapsed financially, having caught around 1,000 sharks. The huge carcasses were pulled out of the water here, the livers rendered for oil, the rest sold for fertilizer, aphrodisiacs or food. A glorious failure of an enterprise.  Geograph (©John Allan (CCL) from where the above photo is taken note:
Harpoon at a Venture is described as
“This book is a significant milestone in the recent history of the Highlands. It records in precise detail much of the natural history of the islands: seabirds, including gannets, puffins, Manx shearwaters and fulmars as well as invaluable information on the seals, dolphins and whales of the Hebridean waters …” –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The first book by Scottish naturalist Gavin Maxwell, who was also the author of “Ring of Bright Water”. In this work he describes an exciting attempt to establish a shark fishery based in the Hebridean island of Soay during the period immediately after the war. The story has all the elements of a good seafarer’s yarn… full of dramatic adventures, humorous anecdotes and great characters. Sir John Lister-Kaye, President of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, in his new introduction writes “This book reveals the young poet at work, the dreamer, the adventurer, the wild romantic exploring himself as well as the people, the wildlife and the countryside he so enthusiastically embraces.” He also points out that Gavin Maxwell “… was a founder conservationist, expressing concern about over-exploitation of whales and other animal populations long before these issues became fashionable….”Amazon

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See also

Books about the Isle of Skye

Collins Rambler’s Guide – Isle of Skye

Produced in association with the Ramblers, this walking guide covers the beautiful Isle of Skye and combines detailed route descriptions with information on the local history and wildlife.

This famous corner of the Scottish Highlands and Islands is home to a spectacular variety of mountain landscapes and dramatic coastlines. There is also a wealth of fascinating places to explore: caves and sea stacks, headlands and arches, waterfalls and castles.

The introduction gives information about the topography, geology and history of the area, and describes the flora and fauna inhabiting it.

Isle of Skye: 40 Coast and Country Walks (Pocket Mountains)

An excellent little walking guide, especially for those – like me – wanting to explore as many parts of the Isle of Skye as possible in a visit. Arranged roughly by ‘peninsular’, there are walks ranging from 45 minutes to a few hours, even a day. We did at least one from each section and they were all straightforward and, of course, beautiful!

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