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Basking sharks make a comeback in British waters

Basking sharks, the world's second largest fish, are thought to be mounting a recovery in UK waters following the end of commercial hunting.

Sightings have not only increased over the past 20 years but the size of the individual sharks seen has also grown, a classic sign of population recovery. More than 81,000 basking sharks were caught in the North-east Atlantic from 1952 to 2004 but they are now widely protected.

Over the past 20 years the public has reported seeing more medium-sized sharks, while researchers on shark-spotting boats recorded more large sharks. Analysis of the summer sightings was described as "the most comprehensive ever" and was carried out by the University of Exeter, the Marine Conservation Society, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Wave Action. The results are published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

"Our research shows that basking sharks could be recovering from the extensive hunting in the 20th century," said Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter.

Canoeists and surfers were startled by a shark just yards off the beach in Gwenva, near Land's End in Cornwall on Sunday. However, they quickly realised the 7 metre shark was a basking shark, so unlikely to harm humans.