What sharks are in the UK and when was last nearest sighting of great white?

British coast has ‘huge diversity’ of species, expert says

Zoe Tidman
Sunday 25 April 2021 08:10 BST
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A great white shark has surprised scientists by moving east across the Atlantic, crossing a barrier in the middle of the ocean – a rare thing to do for the species.

Nukumi, the 17ft female shark moving across the ocean, is pregnant, with scientists saying she may be looking for a place to give birth away from male aggressors.

While she is now closer to Europe than her native America, experts have said she is “capable” of reaching the UK coast, where she was 1,700 miles away than last located.

However, they doubt this is the course she will take.

Dozens of species of sharks can be found around the UK coast – but to date, there has never been a confirmed sighting of a great white.

What sharks live around the UK?

Ali Hood from the Shark Trust told The Independent they is a “huge diversity of shark species” around the UK.

Around 40 species of sharks can be found around the British coastline, with at least 21 believed to live here all year round.

These include the small-spotted catshark, one of the most common sharks around British waters, the nursehound, a large catshark, and the porbeagle shark, which has a white belly and white mark on its dorsal fin.

There are also 11 deepwater species, including the Portuguese dogfish and gulper shark.

On top of these, some sharks visit the UK during certain months – including one of the largest fish in the ocean, the basking shark.

Hood, the director of conservation and The Shark Trust, told The Independent in the last weeks there have been “multiple sightings” of basking sharks in British coastal waters.

She said the UK also sees some of the “fastest sharks” in its waters, including blue sharks, and thresher sharks, which can “reach clear of the water with their incredible long scythe-like tails”, as well as mako sharks, which are less frequently sighted.

Where can you find sharks in the UK?

“Sharks are distributed around the entire UK coastline as they are globally,” Hood tells The Independent.

According to the National Geographic, Cornwall is the “unofficial shark capital”.

Parts of Devon, western Scotland and Ireland are also known for being home to sharks, the magazine adds.

Are UK sharks dangerous?

On the Shark Trust website, it says: “Only a few sharks are potentially dangerous to humans. None of these have ever been reported in British waters.”

It adds: “There have also been no unprovoked shark bites in British waters since records began in 1847.”

How about great white sharks?

With the news about Nukumi moving into the eastern part of the Atlantic Ocean, scientists said she was “capable” of reaching UK shores.

But Hood from the Sharks Trust tells The Independent there has never been a known – and proven – sighting around the British coast.

“On an annual basis, people will report apparent sightings of white sharks in UK waters,” she says, but adds there has not yet been “any tangible evidence”.

“If white sharks were resident around the coast of the UK, we would encounter them,” she said, for example by finding the sharks “entangled in fishing gear”, washed up on shores or in photos.

“It doesn’t mean that the odd one doesn’t pass through,” she says. “But it means we don’t at this time have any form of evidence of resident white sharks.”

Is the UK coast even the right environment for white sharks to live in?

Hood tells The Independent this has always been an “intriguing question”.

After all, they live in “cool, coastal waters”, according to National Geographic.

“You would think the habitat would be suitable but we have no tangible evidence of white sharks,” Hood says.

How near to the UK has a white shark ever reached?

Back in 2014, a great white shark called Lydia crossed the Atlantic, ending up on the coast of Portugal.

But the closest confirmed report to the UK was a female white shark who was found off the Bay of Biscay decades ago.

In 1977, French fishermen caught a juvenile great white – who was nearly 7ft long – off the French port of La Rochelle.

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