Sharkfest

Hammerhead and Blacktip sharks are coming to UK waters

Warmer waters are going to attract some interesting visitors to the UK’s coastline Thursday, 19 July

By Justin Quirk

In one of the less predictable effects of our changing climate, scientists claimed this week that the population of the UK’s coastal waters could be drastically changing over the next 30 years. Their findings suggest that as sea temperatures rise, non-indigenous species of sharks could begin to move from their current location in the Mediterranean to British shores by 2050.

 

The research was commissioned by Nat Geo WILD to celebrate the channel’s Sharkfest, and was conducted by Dr Ken Collins, former administrator of the UK Shark Tagging Programme and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. Dr Collins’ work forms the basis of the Shark Map of Britain released by Nat Geo WILD which estimates that there may currently be over 10 million small sharks and 100,000 larger sharks in British waters, made up of some 40 different species, including Thresher, Basking and Nursehound sharks. “It’s likely we will be seeing more sharks spread from warmer regions such as the Mediterranean Sea towards our waters in the UK over the next 30 years,” says Dr Collins. “These include the likes of Blacktips, Sand tigers and Hammerheads, which are currently found swimming off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.”

New arrivals

Species which are projected to arrive range from Great Hammerhead (the largest species of Hammerhead), to the Blacktip shark, Spotted Raggedtooth, the Oceanic Whitetip and the Goblin shark. These may be joining the Basking, Thresher and Nursehound sharks which already live in British waters, but whose numbers have been declining due to over-fishing and other pressures including plastic waste and climate change.

At present, the leading coastal counties for shark spotting are Cornwall, Scilly Isles, Devon and the Isle of Wight, with Nat Geo WILD shark information points installed on Treyarnon beach in Cornwall this week to educate beach goers about the marine life that they may be sharing the waters with. A week of shark-related programmes runs until July 22nd on the channel, including: 700 Sharks (a journey alongside the largest school of sharks in Polynesia with world-firsts of shark behaviour caught on camera); a clash of the oceanic titans in Shark vs Tuna; and Big Sharks Rulel, a study of the region off the coast of South Africa where the world’s biggest shark species congregate.

The Great big question

As to whether or not we already have Great White sharks in UK waters, Dr Collins does not rule it out – as he points out, while they seem far removed from our usual domestic marine life, they already live in similarly cold waters off South Africa, while their favourite food source, seals, can be found along the Cornish coast. However, he sounds a note of caution about their enduring survival: “While the potential number of shark species around the UK may increase in the next few decades, the overall number of sharks (especially the larger ones) will fall as a result of overfishing, plastic waste and climate change. It’s really important we work together to prevent a premature extinction of these wonderful creatures.”

 

Nat Geo WILD’s week-long Sharkfest premieres Monday 16th July and lasts until Sunday 22nd July

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