Letter to the Shoreham Herald (the published letter on 11 February 1999 was abridged)

Congratulations for being the first paper to publish the capture of the Mako Shark (see the note below) and to the fisherman who landed it.

The British Marine Life Study Society publish a news page of marine wildlife rarities on the Internet for the last 2 years, after collecting records since 1986. 1998 proved to be an exceptional year for very large sharks around Britain. There have been no records of sharks attacking swimmers1 around these islands, but about this time last year the first report came in from Sandsound Voe in the Shetlands from two divers inspecting salmon cages, anxious not to be the first in the records. The shark was not after them but showed a healthy interest in the seals that were in turn trying to get a salmon lunch.

Large 400 lb (180 kg) plus predatory sharks were then reported on more than half a dozen occasions from off Northumberland by fishermen after salmon at sea. The seas around Coquet Island (near Amble) are a regular haunt of large sharks if  they are present. These were originally identified as Porbeagles, but their large size probably meant they were the even more ferocious Mako. Every three or four years, these large sharks are accidentally caught in significant numbers in this part of the North Sea.

The jaws of the Mako are even more dangerous-looking than those of the Great White. So much so that it was the jaw of the Mako that was used on the coverpage of the book and the poster for the film Jaws.

This record was the first I have heard of one from seas off Sussex, but large sharks have been caught before. I remember one, either a Porbeagle or a Mako, caught a few years back off Eastbourne, and doubtless professional fishermen will know of more.

However, bathers need not worry unduly, even if they see a 5 metres long monster cruising off Shoreham, which I did from the harbour pier a very long time ago. It is most likely to be the harmless Basking Shark. Although twice the size of the Great White, it is a plankton feeder. In May hundreds of these huge sharks were seen off the Lizard peninsula. From the vantage point of the high cliffs the whole sea was covered with sharks from close inshore to the horizon. The sharks first arrived about 12 May 1998, and a few days later their numbers were estimated to exceeded 200.

Pilot Fish came in with the sharks, which were followed by Killer Whales about the same size as the sharks. The latter was unlikely to have been a happy co-existence, with pods of Killer Whales known to tear into the sharks, which must be a pretty gory sight, with the sea stained red with blood.


1There have been a few injuries suffered by fishermen landing sharks from nets and shark anglers. There is also one report of a SCUBA diver being attacked off Devon.

The Shoreham shark has now been identified as a Porbeagle Shark, Lamna nasus, by virtually everyone.

by Andy Horton
Adur Valley
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