SeaWatch SW, which started in mid-July, is designed to monitor endangered marine animals. It is already highlighting the spectacular array of sharks, whales, dolphins and seabirds living around our coast, with large numbers of harmless giant basking sharks - as well as minke whales, common dolphins, harbour porpoises, ocean sunfish, and even a predatory blue shark - being recorded from the shore.
The project involves dawn-to-dusk monitoring of the sea off Gwennap Head near Land's End in Cornwall, which is the south-western tip of the UK mainland. Another major aim of SeaWatch SW is to record the numbers of Europe's most endangered seabird, the Balearic Shearwater, passing Gwennap Head.
SeaWatch SW co-ordinator, Dr Russell Wynn of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, said: "The first 200 hours of the survey have produced some exciting sightings, with a peak of at least 25 basking sharks visible at one time. We were even lucky enough to see a predatory shark, probably a blue shark, jump clean out of the water in pursuit of mackerel, just 50 metres from the shore."
Despite recent press coverage of a possible great white shark sighting at nearby St Ives, Dr Wynn adds a note of caution: "Most people don't realise that our waters are home to a variety of shark species, some of which are hard to identify unless seen very well. Many of these species occasionally breach (jump out of the water) and, in addition to the blue shark, we have already observed multiple examples of 8m long basking sharks breaching."
Sharks, whales and dolphins are under threat in UK waters, mostly due to impacts of fishing and increasing numbers of inquisitive tourists. Dr Wynn adds: "Sharks in UK waters have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them. We are monitoring the effects of human activities on the endangered and protected basking shark, which is a harmless plankton feeder".
From the watchpoint Dr Wynn and his team have already seen sharks being harassed by boat users. Deliberate disturbance of basking sharks is illegal under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
The 2007 SeaWatch SW survey continues until mid-October, and daily sightings and photos taken from the watchpoint can be found on the project website at: http://www.seawatch-sw.org.
Sarah Watts | alfa
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