Conservation

You probably think of conservation as something that is the responsibility of governments, environmental groups or charities. In the case of basking sharks conservation YOU can make a difference by sending in basking shark sightings!

It may not be clear to you how this can make a difference to this magnificent but vunerable animal but read this short section and it will be clearer.

In the English Oxford dictionary conservation is defined as the ‘protection, preservation and careful management of natural resources’. It is difficult for land-bound humans to visualise what is happening in the oceans because we cannot easily see under the water surface. This makes it difficult to count the fish or assess the state of underwater habitats. It is all too easy to assume that things are just fine down there and that it will continue to be so. We are now realising that this is not so and governments are creating laws to preserve what is left. Large, slow breeding species such as basking sharks and whales are particularly vunerable because their natural rate of increase is so slow. It is very difficult for scientists to collect data about their movements and behaviours because they have limited funding and there are few of them (more of them later).

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Conservation of basking sharks requires several things to happen

  • 1. People need to be interested in basking sharks. Public and government awareness can be raised through public sighting schemes such as the Manx Basking Shark Watch, documentaries, news articles and , of course, websites like this.
  • 2. Scientists need to research to provide a sound information base that governments will listen to and believe. Schemes such as the Manx Basking Shark Watch in combination with the Marine Conservation Basking Shark Watch will contribute a lot to this!
  • 3. Governments need to put adaquate legistlation in place to protect basking sharks in all their habitats, not just in the 12 nautical mile inshore protection that is in place now.
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Governments need to make laws to protect vulnerable species such as the basking shark. YOU can provide the information about their numbers and movements that will convince them to do so.
Photograph: Mike Glover .

If you have read the section on the current legal situation with regard to the protection of basking sharks you will be aware that there are large holes in it. Each country is fairly free to interpret the legislation according to the laws of its own country and most countries don’t have ANY laws to protect basking sharks, either inside or outside the 12 nautical mile limit. Given that Dr David Sims has shown that tagged basking sharks spend 80% of their time outside the 12 mile limit, this leaves the sharks largely unprotected in most of their habitat. So, raise the issue with your local MP but above all SEND IN YOUR SIGHTING REPORTS PLEASE! This will enable scientists to provide convincing information to governments.

Basking Shark Scientists and Sighting Schemes

There is, of course, the Marine Conservation Basking Shark Watch, of which the Manx Basking Shark Watch is a part. This project aims to monitor the annual geographical movements of basking sharks, the time of year that they are present at each location, fish size, group size and activity patterns. Their (your) observations from 1987 to present have provided vital information that has put basking shark populations on the map (see some of these maps in ‘How Where and When to Watch Basking Sharks’ ) and see more on the Marine Conservation Basking Shark Watch Website.

Dr Colin Speedie works with the European Basking Shark Photo-identification Project (EBSPiP) that aims to identify individual basking sharks by being able to recognise their fins and other identifying features such as size, scars etc. Their work will enable scientists to track individual’s movements. It may ultimately teach us something about population size. This scheme engages the help of the public in the same way as the Manx Basking Shark Watch does. You need to send them still photographs and/or video footage of the sharks you have seen. Please see their very sensible Basking Shark Code. Their work is linked with that of the Shark Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, and WWF.

Dr David Sims research group is working on tagging individual basking sharks off the south coast of Britain. Their work has provided much-needed information about basking sharks home ranges and it has answered the mystery of where they go in winter. A lot of the current biological basking shark research on feeding and social activity is coming from this group and a lot of the biology section in this website is based on their work.

Dr Mavis Gore is tracking basking shark movements and taking detailed samples of plankton near to shark populations off the Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland. Her team’s work should provide information on Scottish basking sharks movements which will complement Dr David Sims work in the south of Britain.

Manx Basking Shark Watch has been working with her on tagging since 2007. She very kindly deployed our 3 MK 10 PAT tags in 2007. The results were spectacular, with Tracy the Tower Insurance shark going across the Atlantic! See (Gore et al 2008). In 2008, with the skills learnt from her in 2007, we deployed 5 tags, the results were excellent, we are going to publish them in 2009. We are deploying 3 tags in 2009.

In 2009 we will be joined by Armelle Jung’s team from APECS in France. Her team will deploy 3 MK10 PAT tags in Manx waters in 2009. Her team will also be radio tagging up to 4 sharks and doing plankton work as well, whilst they are with us.

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan has a basking shark Species Action Plan that aims to further research and to provide protection for the basking shark. Lead partners are the Wildlife Trusts, The Marine Conservation Society and The Shark Trust.

Dr Mavis Gore is tracking basking shark movements and taking detailed samples of plankton near to shark populations off the Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland. Her team’s work should provide information on Scottish basking sharks movements which will complement Dr David Sims work in the south of Britain.

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan has a basking shark Species Action Plan that aims to further research and to provide protection for the basking shark. Lead partners are the Wildlife Trusts, The Marine Conservation Society and The Shark Trust).