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Snorkeling with Basking Shark in Cornwall, England

Snorkeling with Basking Shark in Cornwall, England
By 15 days ago 12360 Views No comments

Tomas who has proved himself more than once to be a fan of sharks, continuously shares with us his adventures of diving with sharks. Previously having dived with whale sharks, thresher sharks and white sharks, now he heads on to Cornwall in England with a hope to encounter the big mouth basking shark.

Where to spot basking sharks?

These harmless peaceful plankton feeding giants pass by Cornwall as they follow the plankton that blooms up along the west coast of Britain. The season for basking sharks usually starts in May and lasts until October but there is no guarantee to spot these sharks because the over-riding factor is the weather which ideally should be sunny with calm winds. The sun brings the plankton to the surface which the sharks follow and then you can spot the dorsal fin as they swim along. They can grow up to 12 meters long, making them the world´s second largest fish species behind whale sharks.

I headed South West from Heathrow Airport for my 3 day visit to Penzance where I was hoping to find and snorkel with the unique basking shark. Apart from the shark, Penzance is a cozy, coastal town with lots of nice pubs with fish and chips on the menu.

Three days of chase

The following morning the RIB Logan and crew was waiting in the glistening water. We left the harbour for the open sea. The day’s plan was to search for the shark along the coast. We did our best but without success. This may have been due to a lack of plankton after the cold winter.

The next morning, we started our search along the same coast but without success we soon gave up and headed for an island which had a large colony of grey seals. The seal encounter was very entertaining with alert and friendly seals of different ages, however not a sign of basking sharks.

A good start to the last day -a fisherman had spotted a dorsal fin. We set out to look for it but without any luck – it had already disappeared so we headed for a cliff instead. Here the waves were rough and high in the strong wind. As we rounded the cliff and entered a calm lagoon with a sandy bottom and turquoise water we immediately spotted two pointed dorsal fins. It was a big moment but before I had finished my thoughts they were heading out to sea where they disappeared into the distance. Now, I had high hopes, because the giants were around and sea coverage is key as the basking sharks can be anywhere – the larger the area searched, the more likely you are to see something.

Tips on how to snorkel with basking sharks

After a while I spotted a dorsal fin close to land. I could follow the fin making a zig-zag pattern at the surface when following the plankton. Would it be my first basking shark? Before you enter the water, you need to know how the shark is moving as they follow a pattern when they find water rich of plankton. With this information, you can plan when and where you can cross their paths.

Encounter with the shark

Equipped with my dry suit, fins, mask and camera I entered the water. Suddenly, I saw a big black fin coming towards me. I looked down, to the right and to the left. Where was it? It was very difficult to see anything because the water was rich with plankton. A couple of meters from me I saw a shark with its mouth wide open creating a huge circle filtering plankton. It only lasted for a few seconds but to see such a huge creature swimming towards you with its mouth open feeding is a truly awesome spectacle.


Text and photo by Tomas Jansson