Basking Sharks Injured by Marine Debris
[caption id="attachment_1893" align="alignleft" width="300"]
Shark with rope/plastic round its nose. Ouch![/caption]
After spotting a basking shark this summer with rope around its nose we were rightly upset about the distress that was being caused to the shark.White abrasions can be seen where the rope has been cutting in and being in close proximity to the eye, must be damaging.
We did not see the shark again, so unfortunately couldn't help it even after gaining the necessary means in which to do so. After a request to use the image of the shark to show school kids, highlighting the problem of marine debris, I did some searching on the net to see if any sharks had been seen before.
[caption id="attachment_2009" align="aligncenter" width="800"]
Enlargement of rope around the sharks nose[/caption]
We found out that another shark with plastic on its nose was seen in 2012 by Craig Whalley round the Isle of Man (see his picture below). We got in touch with Craig (a kayaker from the IoM) and Jackie Hall from the Manx Basking Shark Watch. They had actually seen their shark this summer (2013) too, two years in a row. They named the shark Ringo for obvious reasons, putting an upbeat side to the sharks predicament.
[caption id="attachment_1996" align="alignleft" width="464"]
Craig Whally's Shark as seen from a Kayak at the Isle of Man[/caption]
Initially we thought it was good news that the basking shark had been seen and that the shark was surviving under the circumstances. However after checking videos and pictures (looking for the sharks 'bits') it seems that we had spotted a female but the IoM shark was male.
The debris on our shark does appear to look like rope and the IoM like the plastic wrapping that goes round cardboard boxes. Jackie also advised that Colin Speedie, a Basking Shark researcher, saw one in 2001 fouled by plastic wrapping off Cornwall. So it's very distressing to hear that three of our gentle ocean giants have been affected by our waste in such a way.
[caption id="attachment_2000" align="alignnone" width="1024"]
Plastic Box Strapping on the Beach Courtesy of Balloons Blow (http://balloonsblow.org)[/caption]
What you also must remember that a sharks nose is a highly sensitive part of its body, an area where the sharks electro-senses are concentrated. There is no question that this fouling will have an effect on the shark. Imagine what it would be like to have something on a sensitive part of your body but not have the means to remove it! The way I think about it, is having a splinter of wood stuck under your fingernail but not being able to get it out. Painful and extremely irritating.
From seeing these amazing sharks in this state, the lesson for us is to make sure you cut any strapping up before you dispose of it, if you are walking along the beach, please pick it up. Make sure that you dispose of all waste responsibly and along with the bigger issues of marine debris, try to reduce the amount of plastic that you use!
If we ever see this shark again, we'll be geared up to help it. Please share this message with everyone so the message hits home about our how rubbish is effecting our ocean giants. With lots of messages of around the world about the issue of marine debris, here's a real story from your own doorstep - it's up to you to do something about it!