The Basking Shark – the changing fortunes of Britain’s biggest fish

The Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus featured in volume one of British Wildlife, 29 years ago, at which time ‘the natural history of this spectacular creature… [was] still largely a mystery’ and an active fishery existed in British waters (Earll 1990). In the time since, enormous progress has been made in our understanding of the biology and conservation of this majestic species. In this article, Colin Speedie revisits the history of the Basking Shark in Britain and Ireland and provides an update on our current state of knowledge.

On a calm summer morning the mirror-like skin of the sea is gently sliced by an angular, black fin, betraying the presence of one of Britain’s biggest wild creatures, the Basking Shark. From Land’s End, in Cornwall, to the Isle of Man and the Sea of the Hebrides, wildlife-watchers gather to see this magnificent animal in its natural habitat, in one of the few places in the world where it may be reliably encountered at the surface.

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