Last August 7th 2013, as part of the Manx Lottery Trust funded project ‘There’s a Basking Shark on my Phone’, the Manx Basking Shark Watch team put a satellite tracking tag on a truly enormous 8m long male basking shark who we nicknamed ‘FLOWRIDER’. His satellite tag, sponsored by Sealife Blackpool, has been messaging us about his far-flung travels.

He was a beautifully calm shark, magnificent to watch as he slid past ‘Happy Jack’ the Manx Basking Shark Watch research boat. This was just as well as ‘Flowrider’ is easily 2m longer than the boat, which suddenly seemed rather small and fragile! Under normal circumstances it would be illegal to get so close to this protected species but the Manx Basking Shark Watch research team have a special scientific license from the Department of Environment Food and Agriculture (DEFA) to enable us to get close enough to this protected species to do our research. He serenely allowed us to get close enough to take dorsal fin photos and a skin swab for DNA analysis at Aberdeen University.

FLOWRIDER gets its DNA test IMG_4746

‘Flowrider’ having a DNA swab taken with a very long pole and a sterilised kitchen pan scrubber.

Having assured ourselves that he wasn’t in the slightest bit bothered about our presence and our activities we cautiously approached him and Graham Hall, the Manx Basking Shark Watch Technical Officer, carefully placed the SPOT satellite tag just below his dorsal fin on the shark’s right hand side.

Graham about to tag FLOWRIDER P1020868

Graham Hall preparing the very long pole with which we place the SPOT satellite tag onto the shark.

We find that basking sharks do not react to having the tag attached but they do react strongly if their massive bodies touch the boat. This calls for some careful boat work and the tag being placed on the shark with a VERY long pole! Flowrider really wasn’t even slightly bothered by having the tag placed on his side and he swam calmly away over the horizon.

HD Tag 2 on FLOWRIDER IMG_4846

‘Flowider’ has a very characteristic dorsal fin, with lots of nicks and bumps so it should be easy to identify him if we see him again.

After we tagged Flowrider he fed in Manx waters for a few days before heading off into the deep blue yonder. We didn’t hear from him again until 27th January when his tag signaled that he was way down south off the Moroccan coast about 2,500km from where he had been tagged. He was about 70km West of the Moroccan coast, 770 km East of Madeira. This was VERY exciting news as this was the first time that a basking shark tagged in Manx waters has done this. Our scientific colleagues tagging basking sharks off NW Scotland and Ireland had some tagged sharks going down this far in the past few years so it was wonderful to prove that connectivity with the sharks visiting Manx waters.

Flowrider then went deep again until he popped up on 31st March. To our great delight he was heading north. He was off the French coast 90km West of La Rochelle! He crisscrossed a small area that was no more than 50km in diameter, for 2 weeks. This was very interesting to us as it shows how important this offshore area is for basking shark feeding, yet another thing that no one knew before we started tagging these magnificent animals. After 2 weeks full of many emails of data from Flowrider everything went quiet again on the 13th April and we were not really expecting to hear from him anytime soon when he appeared off Brest further up the French coast on the 16th. He had travelled 240km in just 3 days! At first we suspected that this was too fast for a basking shark to swim in just 3 days. I was starting to wonder if he had shed his tag and that it was on a fishing boat or something. Then I got the calculator out and found that if he had swum constantly 3 days this was about right. He was obviously a basking shark on a mission! Had he smelt a particularly good feeding ground or a female in breeding condition? We just wonder where he will pop up next. Maybe the Isle of Man? That would be nice! See this website and register for email updates if you would like to see where the 3 basking sharks tagged in 2015 have messaged us from. Also register at this other website to see where the 5 sharks we tagged in 2013 got to see