Mackerel fishermen working off the coast of St.Ives, Cornwall have reported what could be the first sighting of an Oceanic white-tip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, in UK waters.
The men were fishing about a mile from the popular seaside town when one of them spotted an unusual dorsal fin approaching their 4.8m/16ft wooden boat. As one of them stood up to see better, the shark butted the boat and raised its head from the water.
The unfamiliar mottled white tips of the shark's dorsal and pectoral fins were clearly visible due to the clarity of the water and the men were confident it was not a Porbeagle (Lamna nasus) which are frequently attracted to mackerel boats.
They immediately headed toward another boat fishing nearby to tell them what had happened before deciding to return to St. Ives where the incident was reported to the harbour master. The crew of the second boat were then circled by what appeared to be the same animal a short time later, with the crew also describing distinctive white tips to fins and long, wing-like pectorals.
A spokesman from the Shark Trust, a UK-based charity that promotes worldwide shark conservation said further work was needed to confirm the identification, and while elements of the description were consistent with Oceanic white-tips there were as yet no confirmed reports of the species in UK waters. UK seas are considered too cold for them to tolerate with the species preferring sea temperatures in excess of 18°C. Current sea temperatures in the area are around 13°C.
The Oceanic White-tip can grow to around 4m/13ft and feeds largely on squid and bony fish.
They have a fearsome reputation with many sources considering them responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than all other shark species combined, largely as the result of attacks attributed to them on the survivors of shipwrecks during WWII.
However, attacks on humans by sharks are very rare, with less than 50 people being killed by sharks in the last 10 years. Carcharhinus longimanus is listed as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN red list of endangered species largely due the trade in shark fins.
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