Do you remember last summer? Seagulls were a tabloid favourite shortly followed by the obvious offenders like Kim Kardashian and Mark Wright. These “dangerous”, “man-eaters” were making a name for themselves as they stalked innocent children up and down the UK coastline. Calls for the birds to be culled were cried out as reports of them carrying off small dogs hit the front pages. Sadly I’m not exaggerating, but it’s ok we’ve all forgotten our hatred for seagulls and have moved on to the fear of THE JAWS OF CORNWALL!
In the last few weeks the Sun has run a story surrounding a mysterious killer shark which is currently creating headlines off the coast of Cornwall. According to their sources numerous sightings have occurred with sport fisherman claiming that the killer shark has taken their catches right off their lines. Speaking to the Sun, Mr Robins who runs a charter boat company told them “A blue shark took the bait 50ft underneath the boat.Our customer was reeling it in quite happily when something big came in and attacked the blue shark we had on the line. It picked the shark up and carried it away spooling a couple hundred yards of line off the reel before dropping it. The blue shark then came to the surface with these savage bite marks. This wasn’t multiple bites it was one powerful bite straight through the top of the head and side of the throat.”
Sensationalist stories are nothing new, indeed it is a huge form of income for tabloid newspapers. Ranging from deadly spiders in the bananas to swarms of jellyfish surroundings swimmers off the British coast these stories can dominate the news for months, but of course the more sensational the headline the more papers or clicks the story will get. We simply don’t want to read stories about abnormally large animals unless they might kill us. However these stories can pose serious harm to the wildlife which surrounds us as they can drive an unwarranted dislike or distrust of rare and endangered species.
The likelihood of any coastal town reenacting the scenes from Jaws is highly unlikely. Our waters are home to numerous species of shark, approximately forty in fact. These range from huge basking sharks to cute velvet belly lantern sharks which glow in the dark. Many species can be found in our waters throughout the whole year whilst many are attracted to our coasts in the summer months because of the abundance of mackerel in our waters. Blue sharks are one such species famed for doing this.
Scientists have warned that larger numbers of mackerel around the coast this year may draw sharks closer to beaches and into more contact with humans. A scary thought when you think about how many unsuspecting tourists are flooding to the beaches in this current heatwave. It almost sounds like the start of a blockbuster until you remember that there has never once been a fatal attack by a shark in UK waters. On the rare occasion people are bitten it is often those fishing for sharks.
As for the shark dubbed the “Jaws of Cornwall”, so far it has claimed 2 blue sharks and potentially a dolphin which was found washed up with gruesome bite marks. Experts however have been quick to dismiss claims it is a great white shark, the species has simply never been spotted in UK waters and if there was one around there would probably be a confirmed sighting.
Large shark sightings can normally be attributed to the giant basking sharks which swim the waters from Cornwall to the Hebrides. Yes these sharks are colossal however they pose no threat to man as filter feeders they prefer to hoover up all the plankton in the ocean. One reason behind the wounds inflicted on the dolphin which washed ashore could be a boat collision, or even a seal.
Shark attacks are rare even in countries which have species such as great whites swimming in their seas. In reality it is humans who pose a far greater threat to sharks especially in the UK. Our huge diversity of species is currently under threat from climate change, habitat destruction and over-fishing.
Currently there are huge campaigns to curb the sale of shark-fin soup however whilst this issue is frequently in the public eye, many are ignorant to the fact that a large number of European sharks are killed here and then their fins are sent to the Asian market. Whilst the majority of fish species face protection from heavily-regulated fishing quotas there are currently no annual catch limits for many European species of sharks. Shark meat has also found its way onto the dinner plate as other fish stocks collapse.
Unfortunately with our own inane obsession with death, the death of another species through our hand rarely sells stories. Instead we are greeted by numerous stories about how an animal may kill us. On behalf of the UK’s sharks however I ask you not to believe the stories and if you do see one count yourself as lucky! They might not be around much longer.
Featured Image of a basking shark by Phil Doherty.
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