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Scientists tracking basking sharks
Scientists tracking basking sharks

Scientists tracking basking sharks

An exciting project which scientists hope will reveal the secret life of large sharks visiting Scottish waters has started in seas around Coll, Tiree and Hyskeir.

Marine biologists from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter have attached satellite tracking tags to 20 basking sharks in the seas around the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. Now fitted, the tags allow people to track the movements of the sharks on the SNH website in close-to-real time.

The tags will provide information on the location and behaviour of the sharks during the summer when they can be seen feeding in large numbers at the surface. They will also track the sharks for several months afterwards, helping scientists understand if the sharks travel to deeper water around Scotland and further afield over the winter.

The tagging work will take place in the waters around Coll and Tiree, and the small island of Hyskeir, near Canna. Research has shown these areas are hotspots for basking sharks, with consistently large numbers sighted there during the summer months. Even though basking sharks are seen in many places round Scotland, displays of social and courtship behaviour, such as breaching and following each other nose-to-tail, have only been observed in these areas, suggesting they are important for key stages in the life cycle of the sharks.

Dr Suz Henderson from SNH, who is managing the basking shark tagging project said: “We’re really lucky to have the world’s second largest fish visit our waters every summer but we know very little about their movements throughout the rest of the year. We want to know how the sharks use the waters between Skye and Mull and how long they remain in the area. We’d also like to find out how important this area is in the life cycle of the sharks, and if some areas are used more than others. The results from this project will help to answer these questions."

The tags, which are attached to the sharks using titanium darts and darting poles, will record information on the movement of the sharks, including depth and water temperature. The tags will detach from the sharks after several months.

The tags might be washed up on beaches after being released from the sharks and if we are able to retrieve them they will provide us with additional information” added Suz. “We’ll be asking the public to keep an eye open for them and help us recover as many as we can.

Dr Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter said: “Although they have captured the public imagination, we actually know relatively little about how basking sharks live. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to find out more about the movements and lifestyles of these fascinating creatures."

This project will use some of newest animal tracking technology available for marine species that allows us to know where the sharks are with near GPS accuracy. This is a hugely challenging project – not least because we are at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions – but the results will provide invaluable in our quest to uncover the secrets of these giants of the sea and help to protect them.”

To track the basking sharks online after they are tagged, click here.


While HWDT aren't involved in this research we will be interested to follow the tagged sharks movements. HWDT encourages people who have encountered sharks to report their sightings online. Moreover, if you have images of the dorsal fin, please send them to sightings@hwdt.org. All reports received will be forwarded to the Shark Trust for their records.