First Scots sighting of 2015 for basking sharks

THE first Scottish sighting of the year of the country’s biggest fish has been recorded near the Hebridean island of Coll.

Basking sharks have been spotted off the Hebridean island of Coll, the first spotting of the year. Picture: PA

The three basking sharks were recorded on Friday by Kenny Turnball and reported to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

It is one of the earliest sightings of the giant fish - which gets its name because it likes to bask in the sun near the surface - off Scotland in years.

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But records of basking sharks fell by a third off Scotland’s west coast - one of its main haunts - last year.

Scientists from Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Exeter have attached satellite tracking tags to 27 sharks in the Inner Hebrides, as part of a £147,000 project to find out more about their life cycle.

The tagging project, which began in 2012, was set up to find out more about the life cycle of the large numbers of sharks that gather around the islands of Coll, Tiree and Canna every summer.

Basking sharks can grow up to 36 feet in length - the length of a double decker bus - and seven tonnes in weight but they feed entirely on plankton, tiny animals that drift through the water. The plankton pass through their enormous gaping mouth and are filtered out by their comb-like gills.

They are long lived, with some surviving as long as 50 years. Because they are slow moving, slow to mature and long lived, they are very vulnerable to human disturbance and impacts.

Basking sharks were once hunted by Ring of Bright Water writer Maxwell around Skye for their oil and meat.

Maxwell set-up a basking shark fishery off the west coast and wrote his first book - Harpoon At A Venture - about how he disastrously hunted the great fish.

But last year they were rarely seen in Scottish waters.

Basking shark sightings fell by 33 per cent from the previous year to 16 encounters, showing a trend of decreasing sightings of the world’s second biggest fish in the area over recent years.