Here are some deep dives on some awesome sharks!
Image above: The Shark Trust
Basking sharks are the largest shark in the world! At an average of 9.8 metres long and weighing 4.5 tonnes, they are definite giants of the oceans. The largest basking sharks can be up to 12 metres long and 7 tonnes in weight! Despite their massive size, these pre-historic looking giants are docile filter feeders and feed only on zooplankton, straining up to 2000 tonnes of water per hour. They are wide-ranging, with a worldwide distribution ranging from cold boreal to tropical equatorial waters. They can be found at various depths, from the near shoreline to depths of up to 1264 metres. Basking sharks are a well-loved giant. Despite their popularity, little is understood of their ecology and they remain somewhat of a mystery!
Basking sharks are an endangered species, threatened by boat strikes and commercial fisheries, where they can be harvested for their meat and fins. Their slow reproductive cycle makes it difficult to replace those animals lost from the population.
Sadly, in recent years, sightings of basking sharks around Cornwall have been declining as the plankton they feed on is being driven further from the coast and further north by warming coastal water temperatures. Sightings around our coast are usually between May-October, where they can be found feeding or basking (hence the name!) at the surface.
Blue sharks are long, sleek beauties! With a rich, metallic blue on top and a white belly, these sharks are perfectly camouflaged from both predators and prey. They give birth to around 35 pups, though litters of up to 135 are possible!
They are the most migratory of all sharks, completing a clockwise loop of the Atlantic each year, travelling 5,700 miles annually! They travel in enormous same-sex groups, ‘riding’ the currents with their long pectoral fins.
The greatest threat to blue sharks is overfishing with millions of tonnes taken annually. They are the most heavily fished shark species on Earth. Part of their migration takes them through Portuguese longline tuna and billfish fisheries, where they are caught as wanted bycatch and sold commercially for their meat and fins.
Blue sharks can be spotted off our coast between May-October, where they are often spotted in feeding groups, hunting for fish and squid. Not only is this placid species of shark completely harmless to humans, but they are also actually quite curious of us and have been known to approach, investigate and even nuzzle up to divers and snorkelers in a playful manner.
Also known as the Lesser Spotted Dogfish, this is small, slender species of shark is one of the most abundant shark species in UK waters. This coastal species is often encountered around our shores in rock pools or in shallow waters by snorkelers and divers. Only growing up to 85cm long and feeding on small bottom-dwelling invertebrates and small fish, they are a far cry from their fearsome Great White cousins.
Small-spotted Catsharks are usually seen alone, either resting on the seabed or swimming along in search of food; but they can also be found in groups, often of the same sex. When threatened, they curl up into a doughnut shape, giving them the nickname ‘shy sharks’.
Small-spotted Catsharks lay their eggs in pairs, each encased in a tough leathery egg case called a mermaid’s purse. These have long curly tendrils at each end, which are used by the female to attach them to seaweed. She may spend a long time laying her eggs, ensuring they’re securely fixed in a safe place until a pup hatches out after 6 to 9 months at around 10cm long.
Once hatched the empty egg cases often get washed ashore and are a common find for beachcombers. If you find one, you can help the Shark Trust learn more about egg-laying sharks, and skates, by recording your egg case to the Great Eggcase Hunt Project.
Why do sharks need our help?
Sharks are a diverse group of animals with over 500 recognized species worldwide! However, marine ecosystems face many threats such as climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction having a lasting impact on sharks with many species classified as threatened on the IUCN list. Sharks are Vital, Valuable and Vulnerable so we must act now to conserve them!
Shark School Kernow – Inspiring Curiosity
To educate and inspire the next generation to get involved in marine conservation and engage children, showing them the beauty of sharks and their marine environment, a new initiative called Shark School Kernow has been set up by a group of Cornwall College students. They are a small team of 3rd-year Zoology and Marine Conservation students studying at Cornwall College Newquay who are passionate about conservation, education and our natural environment. Education plays a vital role in conserving our vulnerable ecosystem. Shark School Kernow believe that children should not have to miss out on opportunities to benefit from natural learning experiences and that children across all schools deserve to receive an equal education!
“Studying at the Newquay campus has provided us with so many opportunities to get involved with conservation charities and local businesses which have been largely beneficial to our degree but also, it has been great to inspire so many young people and communicate what we love! We found out about the Shark Trust’s plans to bring shark education into schools and saw the opportunity to inspire local children around Cornwall. So as part of our project management module, we have set up a Crowdfunder to raise money on behalf of the Shark Trust. More than 40 species of shark are found around the British coast, representing a beautiful variety of species.”
What does Shark School Kernow do?
They seek to provide an interactive, immersive and educational virtual experience for primary school-aged children. At the moment they are raising money to fund at least fifteen interactive sessions, delivered remotely by the Shark Trust to primary school-aged children in schools around Cornwall. However, there are 260 primary schools around Cornwall, and they believe all children deserve the opportunity to get involved! These hour-long sessions will be engaging, exploring the fantastic array of shark species found on our doorstep here in Cornwall and educating children on the importance of shark conservation around the world. The Shark Trust is working hard behind the scenes to create this immersive lesson plan, aiming to launch in January 2022.
How can I support Shark School Kernow?
If you would like to donate to this great cause, you can help to inspire the next generation of potential STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) ambassadors! All money raised will go directly to the Shark Trust to create a bursary fund for Cornish primary schools to access.
If you are interested in the project, please check out further details by using the links below. Please help us have a lasting impact on our future conservation leaders!
By AZC Year 3, Cornwall College
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