John Richardson, Conservation Officer for The Shark Trust, picks six species from the shark family to look out for in the seas around Cornwall.
Reaching over twelve metres in length, the Basking Shark is the ‘gentle giant’ of British sharks. Despite their size, surprisingly little is known about the life-history of this species, which spends most of its life out of sight, deep underwater. However, from May until late October Basking Sharks are regularly sighted along the western coasts of the UK and Ireland, feeding on plankton and engaging in courtship and other social behaviours.
Maximum total length: 1220cm
Resident in UK waters all year-round, the Porbeagle is a large and striking shark with a powerful, streamlined body. Found in coastal and offshore waters down to 715m depth, the Porbeagle primarily hunts fish and cephalopods. Once fished commercially for its meat and fins, the species is now regarded as Critically Endangered throughout the Northeast Atlantic.
Maximum total length: 365cm
A seasonal visitor to UK waters, the Thresher is named for, and easily recognisable by, it’s extremely long tail – the upper lobe of which can be as long as the rest of the shark. Often spotted by anglers fishing for mackerel, the Thresher has developed an unusual method of hunting. Working either alone or in small groups, it bunches up small-to-medium sized schooling fish then stuns and disorientates them using its tail. The shark then takes the dazed fish.
Maximum total length: 760cm
The Blue Shark is one of the most beautiful sharks found in UK waters, distinguished by a shimmering, metallic blue colouring on its dorsal (top) surface and a pure white ventral (underside) surface. In the North Atlantic, Blue Sharks undertake a regular clockwise trans-Atlantic migration, following the major currents, arriving in UK waters in the summer months. Globally, Blue Sharks are the most heavily fished shark species, with an estimated 20 million individuals taken each year.
Maximum total length: 383cm
Found from the shallows to depths of more than 100m, the Starry Smoothound is a favourite of UK anglers, and is particularly common on the southern coasts of England and Wales. Although not as glamorous as its larger shark relatives, the Starry Smoothhound plays an important role in inshore marine ecosystems, where it primarily hunts Liocarcinus and Pagurus-species crabs as part of its diet.
Maximum total length: 140cm
The Thornback Ray is widely distributed throughout UK waters, where it is mostly found on soft substrates such as sand and mud. Regularly spotted by divers, and a staple for anglers, Thornback Rays are highly variable in colour and patterning, although they are distinguished by the extensive ‘thorns’, or spines, which can cover the dorsal surface, and which give the species its name.
Maximum total length: 130cm