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Contrary to popular belief, sharks do occur around the coasts of Britain. In fact we have over 40 different species, including some of the fastest, rarest, largest and most highly migratory in the world! But sadly over 50% of these are currently under threat.
At least 21 species live in British waters all year round, although you’re very unlikely to encounter one during a trip to the beach! However, you may find evidence of Smallspotted Catsharks or Nursehounds in the form of empty eggcases (also known as mermaid’s purses). These small coastal catsharks reproduce by laying eggcases and, once the shark pups hatch from these, the empty cases often get washed ashore and can be found in the strandline.
Help us search the coastline for shark, skate and ray eggcases! Eggcase hunting is great fun for all the family and you’ll be helping shark conservation at the same time. Visit our Great Eggcase Hunt project pages to find out more.
Once common around the British Isles, the Angelshark, Common Skate complex and White Skate, are all now listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are now rarely encountered. In 2008, the Shark Trust helped secured domestic protection for the Angelshark in UK waters and it’s now one of the most heavily protected sharks in the Northeast Atlantic.
There are at least 11 species of shark in the UK, including the Portuguese Dogfish, Black Dogfish, Kitefin Shark and Gulper Shark that are only found in deep water.
In the warmer months you may be lucky enough to spot the world’s second largest fish – the filter-feeding Basking Shark – basking in the sun and feasting on plankton. There are a number of hotspots around the British Isles where Basking Sharks can often be seen between May and October. Find out more by visiting our Basking Shark project.
Other seasonal visitors to British waters include the Blue Shark and Shortfin Mako. Blue Sharks are highly migratory and can travel over 5,700 miles (9,200 km) in a single trip. The Shortfin Mako is the fastest shark recorded, reaching speeds of up to 30mph, which enables them to catch fast-swimming prey such as tuna and swordfish.
Some sharks, such as the Smooth Hammerhead and Frilled Shark, may occasionally swim into our waters.
Despite good conditions for White Sharks, there have been no confirmed sightings, or substantial evidence, of them being present in British waters. The closest confirmed report was of a female White Shark, which was captured in 1977 in the northern Bay of Biscay – 168 miles off Land’s End, Cornwall. In 2014, a tagged White Shark called Lydia was documented as the first of its species to cross the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, although she was still 1,000 miles from British shores!
SHARKS IN THE BRITISH MEDIA
Shark sightings are often sensationalised in the media causing unnecessary public concern, often for species which pose no threat.
Only a very few sharks are considered to be potentially dangerous to humans and none of these have ever been reported in British waters. There have also been no unprovoked shark bites in British waters since records began in 1847. With so many sharks in decline, we believe that shark encounters should be seen as a privilege rather than a cause for alarm.
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