Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep

Basking Sharks

Basking Sharks c/o Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and Rob Pickering

The Basking Shark is distantly related to the Great White Shark and has 1,600 teeth! Basking Sharks can be spotted all around the British Isles coast, but are most commonly seen off the west coast of the UK as well as the west and east coasts of Ireland.

It's one of the biggest mammals in the world - most sharks are around 30 metres in length, and are similar in size and weight to a double decker bus.

It is called a Basking Shark because many years ago fishermen saw them close to the surface and thought they were sun bathing.

In order to eat sufficient food, each shark needs to filter about 2.000 cubic metres of water every hour - about the amount of water in a large swimming pool.

Shark courtship behaviour sometimes includes nose to tail following, parallel swimming and breaching - the males hold on to females and twist around.

Photo credits

Basking Sharks images copyright and courtesy of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and Rob Pickering.

Photo gallery images courtesy and copyright of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and Rob Pickering plus Tony Oliver and Coll Digital Images.

Web links

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust

Marine Conservation Society

Coll Digital Images

Photo gallery

Watch and Listen

Join a Basking Shark expedition off the Hebrides in Scotland with presenter Janet Sumner:

Watch the video clip


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Tips for viewing this species: 

  • British coasts remain one of the best places to see Basking Sharks.
  • June and July are the best times to watch Basking Sharks in the South West of England especially around The Lizard and Lands End. If you're lucky, some days there are dozens of Basking Sharks only 20 minutes from shore. However, they are very unpredictable and can suddenly disappear as they follow the plankton.
  • Between April and September is the best time to look for Basking Sharks. They’re rarely seen in winter and people once thought they hibernated on the ocean floor. In fact they stay around our coasts all year but in winter plankton remain below the surface and so do the sharks.  
  • Penzance is one of the best places for sightings. The Isle of Man is also good for watching Basking Sharks especially in June and July. Take a boat from one of three ports – Port St Mary, Port Erin or Peel - also look out for seals and dolphins.
  • Check the weather forecast - you'll need calm seas to see the sharks.
  • Scan the horizon and look for tell tale signs such as fins breaking the surface of the water and sharks breaching.
  • Don't confuse the Basking Sharks with Dolphins which can also be seen regularly off the South West coast where there are sometimes super pods of up to 2,000.
  • June is usually the best month for Basking Sharks - some sharks then head for Scotland but they can go anywhere. They have no set pattern.
  • Give these amazing creatures a wide berth - don't disturb them by getting too close and don't try to swim with them. The Wildlife Trust has drawn up a code for boat operators so they don’t get too close.

  • Habitat

    The seas around Cornwall are great for marine wildlife - they're home to the Basking Shark, a mammal the size of a bus.

    Basking Sharks c/o Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and Rob Pickerings

    There are healthy numbers of these sharks around British shores but they are threatened elsewhere. Many in East Asia are hunted for fin soup, and they have only recently been granted protection in other parts of Europe.

    Some sharks are found each year having been entangled in fishermen’s nets. There’s also a problem with disturbance from boat owners and pleasure craft.

    The Basking Sharks are attracted by their favourite food - plankton. They take gallons of water and pass it out through their large gills while tiny hair-like instruments inside the mouth sift out the plankton.


    Deer rut

    No. 12 - Rutting deer

    One of nature's great spectacles is deer rutting. Red Deer mate between late September and November when the mature stags seek out female hinds.

    Best places to see - Lyme Park (Cheshire), New Forest, Galloway Forest.


    Pink footed Goose c/o RSPB Images and Chris Gomersall

    No. 11 - Flocks of Geese

    Flocks of geese are one of the most spectacular sights in the animal kingdom due to their sheer numbers and swooping patterns in the skies above.

    Best place to see - Snettisham (North Norfolk).


    Barn Owls c/o BBC Science Photo Library

    No. 10 - Barn Owls hunting

    The Barn Owl is one of the UK’s most popular birds with its stunning heart-shaped white face and gold-beige plumage. Look out for them hunting.

    Best places to see - Norfolk, Great Ouse (The Wash) and farming areas.


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