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Issue:- 30 May 2013

Chilly UK seas could be keeping basking sharks away

BASKING sharks (Cetorhinus maximus), which can grow to the size of a double decker bus, appear to be giving UK seas the cold shoulder probably because the water temperature here is lower than usual at this time of year.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) which runs Basking Shark Watch, the biggest database of publicly reported sightings in the world, says it has received hardly any reports so far this year and it could be down to the chillier waters.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Senior Biodiversity Officer, says even a few degrees can make a difference:- "Divers are telling us that the water temperature is 10 or 11 degrees centigrade. But at this time of the year it should be nearer 13 degrees. This means that the plankton, which is the basking sharks favourite food and the reason they come to our waters, are not blooming in the usual quantities so basking sharks are staying in warmer seas to feed."

MCS says that despite the seemingly slow start to the 2013 basking shark spotting season, we can expect to see a number
of these gentle giants visiting our seas in the coming months.

Last year over 170 sightings were reported to the charity via its website.

"Although the basking shark is the world's second largest fish after the whale shark, if you haven't seen one before it can be quite tricky to work out if what you've just spotted is in fact a basker."
says Dr Solandt.

MCS says there 3 clear signs that will tell you it's a basking shark:-

A large broad dorsal fin and sweeping tail fin breaking the surface - the distance between them indicates approximately half the size of the shark.

Snout often breaking the surface when feeding.

If you're close up, you'll see the wide circular gaping mouth clearly visible when feeding.

Dolphins and porpoises tend to show more of their backs when breathing at the surface, and will have a more regular 'arcing' pattern of movement as they raise their bodies briefly above the water.

MCS says it's important that the location of these creatures continues to be mapped to help scientists and conservationists discover more about their lives and ensure they continue to thrive in our waters. Dr Solandt says:- "With so many people carrying smart phones these days, it's easy to go straight to our websites, record your sighting and take a picture and upload it directly to our Facebook Facebook  or Twitter, all within moments of seeing a basking shark."

In UK waters there are a number of basking shark hotspots, where sightings are most likely, including the seas around the Isle of Man, off the West Coast of Scotland and around Cornwall.

In collaboration with the Shark Trust, MCS has produced the Basking Shark Code of Conduct, which provides clear guidance
on how the public can behave safely around basking sharks. You can find out more at:-

Bottlenose dolphins may be moving North

THE unusual sight of a large group of bottlenose dolphins near the Isle of Man, may be further evidence that they are shifting their summer range northwards, says the marine conservation charity Sea Watch Foundation.

The Manx Whale & Dolphin Watch not only reported around 10 bottlenose dolphins in the North Eastern part of the Isle of Man on 19 May 2013, but later the same day, a large group of 50 to 60 bottlenose dolphins, including young calves, off the eastern part of the Island. Both organisations are calling for members of the public along the North West coast of the UK, including Merseyside, Lancashire and the Lake District to send in photographs to:- of bottlenose dolphins off the Isle of Man or off the North West coast of England and the Galloway coast in the Northeast Irish Sea, to see whether they can be matched with any known to frequent Cardigan Bay. The photographs need to show their fins side on which are used for ID in much the same way as fingerprints in humans!

Another interesting sighting; a group of 20 bottlenose sightings off Abbey Head, Dumfries and Galloway; was also reported to Sea Watch by Regional co-ordinator, Mark Pollitt, manager of the Dumfries and Galloway Environmental Recording Centre on 20 May 2013. Photographs are again being sought to see whether these dolphins match records either from Cardigan Bay in Wales or form Scottish populations on the West and East Coast.

Daphna Feingold, Sea Watch Monitoring officer for the Cardigan Bay bottlenose dolphin Photo ID Project, says:- "There were also reports of Risso's dolphins in the Isle of Man area at the same time and of the two species swimming together. Although this is not unheard of, it is quite unusual in UK coastal waters. In recent years we have been noting what may be a shift in the Cardigan Bay population northwards, and we are concerned that this may be due to disturbance since recreational boating has increased and has been shown to have a negative effect on the animals." Sea Watch is calling for added protection for bottlenose dolphins around the North coasts of Wales since these are being used extensively by bottlenose dolphins. Current conservation protection for the species exists in the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Pen Llyn a'r Sarnau SAC, but not further North."

Tom Felce, Manx Whale & Dolphin Watch, says:- "There has been a clear increase in the number of sightings of bottlenose dolphins in Manx waters in the last two or three years, with sighting numbers increasing from around 15 sightings a year, to around 40 or 50 sightings a year. The majority of these sightings are in the winter months, between October and March, so a sighting of such a large group towards the end of May is particularly significant."

Manx fisherman Danny Kermeen, who reported the initial sighting of ten individuals, has been catching lots of herring in the north of the island which may be the reason that the bottlenose dolphins are in the area at this time of year, as herring do not normally reach the north east of the island until October or November. However, since herring eat sand eels, it may also be those that are attracting the bottlenose dolphins

Find out more about Sea Watch and how to take part yourself in National Whale and Dolphin Watch from 27 July to 4 August 2013, via:- and help protect the UK's whales and dolphins by adopting a Cardigan Bay dolphin on:-

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