Eco-tourists can snorkel with sharks off Cornwall

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The Independent Online

Forget about swimming with dolphins – the next big thing in eco-tourism is climbing into the water with an endangered, five-tonne, ocean-going vacuum cleaner.

Forget about swimming with dolphins – the next big thing in eco-tourism is climbing into the water with an endangered, five-tonne, ocean-going vacuum cleaner.

Conservationists have announced the first opportunity in Britain for the public to get up close with the world's second largest fish – the basking shark. Snorkellers will be able to swim alongside the huge creature, which grows up to 35 feet (10m) long, off the Cornish coast next month as part of an effort to publicise its plight. The species, which feeds by opening its mouth and filtering up to 2,000 tonnes of water an hour to extract plankton, is being endangered by fishermen hunting it for its fins and oil.

Conservationists, who are pressing for the sharks to be given international protection, believe that, in a world where eco-tourism is big business, Britain is ignoring its own unique natural asset. Clive James, director of the Plymouth-based Shark Trust, said: "The basking shark is a wonderful creature but it is largely unknown by the wider public in this country. People pay hundreds of pounds to fly abroad to go whale-watching and catch a glimpse of a large species when all the time we have our own magnificent creature here."

Participants in the swimming with sharks experience will have to earn their brush with "baskers" by walking along clifftops of The Lizard peninsula to spot one of the animals feeding on the surface. Armed with a snorkel and wetsuit, swimmers will go to a point on the route of the feeding sharks and then watch as they pass, filtering the equivalent of an Olympic swimming pool every hour. Despite their size and alarming feeding style, basking sharks are placid, harmless creatures. The only danger is on the rare occasions when they "breach" or jump out of the water.

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