HotRIBS - The online RIB Magazine
[ article ]
  # 013
by Mike Mc Mahon. A Yachting Journalists Association member and sailing correspondent for Isle of Man Newspapers, Mike is a keen sailor and Commodore of the Douglas Bay Yacht Club.

basking shark

The Isle of Man is internationally famous for the TT Races, tail-less cats, Manx kippers and its status as a tax haven (aka "offshore financial centre"). Now however, it has a new claim to fame. The waters off the west coast of the island have been found to be home to the largest concentration of Basking Sharks in the world.

These giant creatures, second only in size to the whale shark, range up to 12 metres or more in length, with a gaping mouth 1 metre wide! But 'Cetorhinus Maximus', which is its biological name, is no 'Jaws'. The basking shark is indeed a gentle giant. Although it has teeth, they are quite small, only 5 mm in size and the creature is no threat to mankind.

Basking sharks swim just beneath the surface at 2 to 3 knots with their massive mouths agape, filtering plankton from the water through gill rakers on 5 enormous pairs of gill arches.

It has been estimated that they filter a volume of sea water equivalent to the contents of a 50 metre swimming pool every hour.... They are endangered by the demands of the Far East shark fin trade which has encouraged fishing of not only baskers but sharks in general , solely for their fins. They are hunted in large numbers in Norway. They are a protected species in the UK (1998) and the Isle of Man (1990) and as such any one found disturbing or interfering with them could be subject to prosecution. Around the Isle

of Man their welfare is carefully monitored by the locally based Basking Shark Society, which is a world authority on the creatures.So where can RIBsters see basking sharks and what should you do when you find them?

As with any wildlife it is best to stop your engine
someway off and let them come to you rather than risk scaring them off. The major feeding grounds appear to be in that part of the Irish Sea between the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. The highest concentration of sharks are to be found regularly cruising the 'tides meet' area which stretches between Contrary Head, just south of Peel on the west coast of the Island, to Carlingford, just north of Dundalk Bay on the Irish coast. It may be that this area, where the north and south going tides meet, is especially rich in the current borne plankton on which the sharks feed.

A few sightings of basking sharks have been made on the east coast of the Isle of Man and in Ramsey Bay to the north east. However, the majority are to be found off the south western shore from Peel down to the Calf of Man where the tidal
strength is at its weakest compared to the fierce tides on the eastern side. Like most fish the basking sharks prefer to be left alone and if you approach them at 30 knots, with your 100 hp engine roaring, they will soon disappear.

If you are prepared to make a gentle approach at slow speed, you can get very close without disturbing them and will be well rewarded for your consideration. Up close they are awesome beasts of astonishing size and power as they cruise effortlessly along silently hoovering up

their food.... It is self evident that you should never harass any basking shark, for although they won't take a bite out of your boat, they are more than powerful enough to flip a RIB if you upset them!

For more information on these fascinating creatures take a look at the IOM Basking Shark Society's website

or you can e-mail them at
basking shark

Photographs kindly provided by the Basking Shark Society