Where to Watch
When watching for basking sharks in Manx waters you need to know where, when and how to look for the best chances of success. Find out more …
1: Where to see basking sharks in Manx waters:
The southern and southwestern coast of the Isle of Man is probably the best place in the world to watch basking sharks close inshore.
The biggest clue about when to see them is to keep an eye on our web reports page on this website and on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ManxBaskingSharkWatch). This will tell you when there are sharks around.
There are people who live on the Isle of Man who have never seen a shark! This is a shame as the Isle of Man is a basking shark hotspot AND the sharks tend to be close to shore.
The Isle of Man South and West Coat of course! The Marine Conservation Society (UK) Basking Shark Watch Project 1984-present, found that basking shark sightings were very high on the Isle of Man compared to the rest of British waters, especially considering the relatively small length of the coastline. They also found that school sizes were larger on the Island than elsewhere.
Manx Basking Shark Watch has been collecting your public sightings reports of basking sharks every year since 2005 and sharing them with the MCS project. We consistently find most basking sharks sightings to be located on the south and southwest coast of the isle of Man.
Map of the Basking Shark Sightings 1987-2003 for UK, Isle of Man and Ireland. Data from the Marine Conservation Society Basking Shark Watch
Map of Basking Shark Sightings MBSW 2008 for Isle of Man
This shark was off Fleshwick Bay, the Isle of Man. Picture: Pauline Oliver
The map of the Isle of Man shows that although basking shark sightings occur Island-wide they are more common on the Southwest and West coast starting from from Castletown and working clockwise around the Island, off the Chasms and Spanish Head, around the Calf of Man, Bradda Head, Port Erin, Fleshwick Bay and northwards up the west coast towards Peel.
The coast from Niarbyl Bay past Dalby, Glen Maye, behind Peel Hill and off Peel Castle, Peel breakwater and Peel headlands can be excellent areas to see basking sharks when they are here in any numbers. These places are areas of high plankton concentration so basking sharks congregate there.
The area North of Peel is also known to be a basking shark hotspot but few basking sharks are reported from this area because the coast is lower-lying than further South. This results in people rarely spotting the sharks that are here unless the people are on a boat or the basking sharks are right into the coastline.
High plankton concentrations occur where ocean fronts are close inshore off headlands and islands, and in bays where tidal slacks occur. Local scuba divers report that one of the best times to see basking sharks is on the flood tide at Niarbyl where the tidal flow streaming from the south meets the calm water of Niarbyl Bay. It is possible to see basking sharks from most of these sites whether you are on the cliffs or in a boat.
The MCS (UK) Basking Shark Watch Project has shown that shoal sizes were largest in the Northwest. This is not obvious from the map because the map only shows each sighting report as one dot. The biggest shoal ever reported was more than 100 sharks off Jurby head in July 1991.
2: When to see basking sharks in Manx Waters?
The biggest clue about when to see basking sharks is to keep an eye on our web reports page on this website and to like our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ManxBaskingSharkWatch). This will tell you when there are sharks around.
Basking sharks arrive each summer to feed on the zooplankton blooms that occur just offshore of our Southern and Western coasts. This tends to happen anytime from mid-May until Mid-August, mainly depending on the timing of the plankton blooms. These can vary slightly from year to year.
The first and last sharks of this summer season tend to arrive slightly earlier and later than this but not necessarily where you would expect them to be. For example early and late sharks are sometimes seen in Douglas Bay and off Ramsey. We have even had a ‘stray shark’ pop up in the North of the Manx waters in Christmas week!
3: How to see basking sharks in Manx Waters.
Of all our sightings reports during 2005-2008 a whopping 64% were within 1km of shore! This means that it is easy to spot them from the coast. No need to even get onto a boat. If you do get into a boat choose one that knows how to drive a boat carefully when there are sharks around. Sharks are slow and they don’t avoid boats in the same way that whales and dolphins do. Choose either a commercially registered boat of one with a skipper that observes the Shark Trusts’ Basking Shark Code of Conduct. See-https://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/wildlife/basking_sharks/Basking_Shark_Code_of_Conduct_Poster.pdf
- Walk along the coastal path, the Road Ny Fiollan (Road of the Gull in Manx) along the south and South west.
- Look for them in high season (Late May until early August
- Take some binoculars with you.
- Watch for black fins slicing through the water. You may see just the large dorsal fin or the dorsal and tail fin or you may see all 3 ‘points’ of the shark, the bulbous nose, the large dorsal fin and the slightly ‘flagged’ tail fin.
- If it is a flat calm day the black wet dorsal fin can ‘flash’ like a mirror.
- Look for lots of other people looking at the water or for boats stopped and people looking excited. They may have spotted one of more sharks!
- If you see lots of gannets diving into the water this is a big clue that there MAY be basking sharks there. This is because when the zooplankton that the basking sharks want to eat is thick there will be tiny fish feeding on them. The gannets are after these too.
- Look for tidal fronts. These form where one water body meets another. This is where the plankton is thickest and this is where you are likely to see basking sharks. There tidal fronts may look lie thick oily slicks with lots of jellyfish and plastic detritus floating in it of they may just look like shiny lines in the water.
Picture: Shane Stigant.