PICTURES: Boffins hope to discover the secret life of basking sharks
Scientists hope to uncover the secrets of basking sharks by tracking their movement in waters around the UK.
A total of 27 sharks have been tagged in a project to find out more about their seasonal behaviour.
A team from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Exeter University attached small tags to the fins of sharks swimming around the islands of Tiree and Coll in the Inner Hebrides this summer.
Members of the public are being given the opportunity to watch the progress of 15 of the sharks online.
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Dr Suzanne Henderson, from SNH, is managing the project, now in its second year.
She said: “We’re delighted to have successfully tagged all 27 and now we’re looking forward to seeing where they go over the next few months.
“Although we know a lot about basking shark biology and worldwide distribution, surprisingly little is known about their seasonal movements.
“The information we get from these tags will add to the results from the work we did in 2012, helping us build up a picture of the sharks’ behaviour throughout the year.”
Basking sharks can grow up to 36ft (11m) long and weigh up to seven tons, but feed entirely on plankton. They can live for up to 50 years.
For generations they were hunted for the high oil content of their large livers and more recently for their big fins.
The migrating species is most often seen in coastal areas in the summer and autumn when plankton are abundant at the surface of the water.
Basking sharks in the North East Atlantic are recognised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “endangered” and trade in their body parts is restricted by the Convention on the International Trade for Endangered Species (Cites).
Tags were attached to the dorsal fin of the sharks with a titanium metal dart using an extendable darting pole.
Fifteen of the sharks were fitted with tags which provide information on the position of the shark each time it comes to the surface.
The others are designed to collect data on depth, temperature and light levels over several months and then detach from the shark.
These tags then float to the surface and transmit data to satellites passing overhead.
If they are physically retrieved then much more data can be collected and the team is appealing to anyone who finds a silver-grey, torpedo-shaped tag around the shores of the UK to get in touch.
So far, most of the 15 sharks have stayed around the Inner Hebrides, one has ventured to the Outer Hebrides and back again, and two have headed to the north coast of Ireland.
Dr Matthew Witt, of Exeter University, said: “It’s great to be able to learn more about the seasonal movements of these enigmatic animals, which play an important role in the food chains of our coastal seas.
“Working together, our two organisations are helping to determine how important the Hebrides area really is for these sharks.”
The results will feed into a Scottish Government consultation on Scotland’s seas and will help decide whether a special Marine Protected Area should be put in place to help safeguard the sharks.
To track the basking sharks online, go to www.snh.gov.uk/about-scotlands-nature/species/fish/sea-fish/shark-tagging-projec t/
A reward is available for any tags returned. Contact email@example.com.