Dolphin watching on the Isle of Mull
Reaching lengths of up to 10metres, this species is the second
largest fish, being smaller than only the tropical Whale Shark.
They are seen around the Hebrides between May and October when
they will be feeding in the plankton rich waters.
first thing that you usually see with a Basking Shark is the
dorsal fin, which on a large animal can reach nearly 1 metre tall.
The dorsal fin is triangular as opposed to more curved in
cetaceans, and is very dark grey in colour. Once you have noticed
them you will often notice the smaller tail fin and very
occasionally the nose. In the right conditions it is possible to
see the whole animal under the water and you will often see the
white of the gill rakers as they pass by hoovering up the
Sharks can be seen very close into land and are one of the species
you are most likely to see from the shore. From Mull the best
places are Glengorm and Calgary bay, however you have a good
chance of seeing them around any of the Hebridean islands.
Basking Sharks feed by filtering water over their gills, the
plankton will stick to the comb-like gill rakers and then the
Shark will close its mouth forcing the trapped plankton down its
throat. They feed on a range of planktonic species, including
Copepods, crustacean larvae and fish eggs, and can filter up to
1800tonnes or 2.5 million litres of water per hour, or the
equivalent volume of water as an Olympic swimming pool. Plankton
will move about within the water column and the Basking Sharks
will follow them, this is why some days an area will be full of
sharks and the next day you will see nothing. In this case it is
highly unlikely that the sharks will have left the area, and more
likely that they will just have moved lower in the water column,
where they canít be seen from above. A rule of thumb is that for
every shark above the water there will be approximately 10 others
out of sight.
Basking sharks are relatively docile animals
and whilst they won't approach boats, they will allow boats to
approach them, especially when they are concentrating on feeding.
Despite being slow moving animals they are known to breach, where
they jump out of the water, and there are a number of suggested
reasons for this including clearing their skin of parasites,
showing off to prospective mates or for communication purposes. In
general very little is known about Basking Sharks, however more
research is being carried out all the time. One individual tagged
during a recent tagging programme was found to cross the Atlantic,
however it is unknown whether all Sharks make this migration or if
this was a one off.