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. Continue reading Basking shark fishery on Soay
A world conference on basking sharks in Britain today has announced nature reserves may be set up around the British coast in an attempt to protect the world’s second biggest fish. Worldwide, they are threatened by boat collisions, entanglement in fishing nets and in some parts of the world are hunted for their fins (to be used in shark fin soup).
Proposals for its formal protection in British marine nature reserves are likely to come the conference. Dr Lissa Goodwin, marine policy officer for the Wildlife Trusts, said conservation zones for the species might be included in the marine nature reserves which will be set up around the coasts of Britain under the Marine Bill currently going before parliament.
“There are definite threats to the basking shark in Britain, such as boat collisions and entanglement in nets, but we don’t know what the level of threat is to the population as a whole, so we need to err on the side of caution,” she said.
Another species to be seen in extraordinary numbers as a result of Britain’s heatwave is the mysterious and elusive Basking Shark. A record number of over 900 sightings have been made off the Cornish coast since June, compared to 26 sightings last year. The second largest shark in the world (11 metres long), they look frightening but they are harmless zooplankton feeders. They are cropping up in all kinds of unexpected places, such as Felixstowe, as unusually warm conditions cause a proliferation of floating invertebrates. The Guardian
While reading about basking sharks, I came across the story of the Stronsay beast, a large, dead sea-creature that washed ashore on the island of Stronsay in the Orkney Islands, after a storm in 1808. The decomposed carcass was said to measure 55 feet in length, without the tail. The terrible beast was reported in the local press athe time:
“Its flesh was described as being like ‘coarse, ill-coloured beef, entirely covered with fat and tallow and without the least resemblance or affinity to fish’. The skin, which was grey coloured and had an elastic texture was said to be about two inches thick in parts.”
Account of the Stronsay Beast as reported in The Orcadian newspaper. From The Stronsay Beast
The Natural History Society of Edinburgh was unable to identify the carcass and decided it was a new species, probably a sea serpent. Later the anatomist Sir Everard Home dismissed the measurement, declaring it must have been around 36 feet, and deemed it to be a decayed basking shark as basking sharks can take on a ‘pseudo plesiosaur’ appearance when they decompose. “First the shark’s jaws – which are attached only by a small piece of flesh – drop off leaving what looks like the remains of a long neck and a small skull.” More here