Code of Conduct
Marine Wildlife and Boating on the Isle of Man: Basking Sharks
Basking sharks, the second largest fish in the world, are harmless plankton eaters. They can be up to 10 m long, as long as a bus, and weigh as much as two elephants. We rarely see sharks longer than 8m. The MBSW team have seen 2 of 9m length in 15 years researching them.
Their Manx name is Gobbag vooar, which means ‘big mouth’. They filter microscopic plankton from the water using mucous covered gill rakers. Boat users will often encounter them doing this at or just under the water. Photo: Charles Hood.
We are fortunate to see many basking sharks in Manx waters and it is easy to think of them as common: they are not. Fisheries threats from the horrible shark-finning industry mean that they are very endangered, listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list. There may be only 8200 of them left in the whole world. They are very slow breeding, having 5 or 6 live pups about every 3 years. You may see newborns of 1.5- 2m in Manx waters. Manx law protects basking sharks from harassment, fishing or reckless injury. If you injure one through reckless boat driving you are liable to be prosecuted and fined up to £5000.
You may encounter these rare creatures during their ‘social swimming’ courtship rituals. This involves them swimming very close together, parallel to one another, or one behind the other, or even nose to tail, sometimes in circular groups of two or more sharks. If you see this behaviour you should leave the area. It is against the law to disturb their courtship rituals and it is dangerous for boats to be close to basking sharks at this time as they are liable to breach, leaping clear out of the water. If they land on your boat this would be bad press for the basking sharks and very bad news for you and your boat! These social swimming events are possible anywhere off the South and West of the Island but they are most likely to occur in flat calm weather close inshore between Bradda Head, Fleshwick and offshore of Contrary Head near Peel.
Boat Control in Basking Shark Hotspots
- Restrict your speed to below 6 knots and avoid sudden speed changes.
- Do not approach closer than 100m.
- When closer than 100m switch the engine to neutral to avoid injuring sharks.
- Avoid disturbing groups of sharks as you may disrupt courtship behaviour.
- Do not approach areas where basking sharks have been observed breaching.
- Jet-skis seriously disturb basking sharks, they should stay at least 500m away.
- For every shark visible on the surface there are likely to be many more just below.
- Avoid sailing your boat along the foamy, plankton-filled tidal fronts. They are often full of jellyfish and floating seaweed. This is where the sharks feed.
- Take time to observe the direction of movement of the basking sharks then quietly position the vessel alongside their anticipated course for a safe and enjoyable view.
- If you find basking sharks close to your vessel switch your engine to neutral, remain calm and quiet and enjoy a close view of these magnificent animals until they move away.
- For more information, about basking sharks see www.manxbaskingsharkwatch.org.
- Don’t forget to send your sighting reports and basking shark photos to Manx Basking Shark Watch. They are particularly interested to hear about possible courtship behaviour.
- To report a dead basking shark or someone behaving inappropriately near basking sharks please ring Dr Gell, Wildlife and Conservation Officer for DAFF on 01624 843109.
- DAFF also offer WiSe training and accreditation courses to operators of registered and charter vessels wishing to view marine animals. The course is designed to ensure that they have an understanding of how to approach marine wildlife and how to minimize disturbance to those animals. They also agree to abide by Codes of Conduct for the animals they view.
- If is not advisable to dive or swim with basking sharks.