Scientists trying to discover whether Scotland’s seas are a mating ground for basking sharks have gathered new footage showing Britain’s biggest fish being sociable.
The data has been gathered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter as part of a new camera tagging project which launched earlier this month.
Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, reaching lengths up to 32 feet.
Despite their size and prevalence in Scotland’s seas, little is understood about their social behaviours.
Dr Suzanne Henderson, policy and advice officer at SNH, said: “A large number of sharks appear each year just off the western coast of Scotland in the Sea of the Hebrides.
“However, there’s been limited research to show exactly what they’re doing here: do they come solely to feed on plankton, or are they courting each other and using our coast as a mating ground?”
Researchers from SNH and the University of Exeter spent a week off the coast of Tobermory tagging three basking sharks using towed camera tags – the camera tags trail slightly behind the attachment point at the base of the main dorsal fin.
It is believed this type of tag has never before been used on basking sharks. The video footage collected by the tags will give scientists a new understanding of basking shark group behaviour.
Dr Henderson added: “There’s very little information about social and mating behaviours in basking sharks, or indeed sharks in general. We’ve been unsure whether the surface behaviours we see in the Sea of the Hebrides – such as parallel swimming, following nose to tail, or swimming in tight circles – are courtship activities.”
Data collected by the camera tags will also help inform future consultation processes around designating a Marine Protected Area by identifying why the area is important to the sharks.
The researchers hope to return to Tobermory next year to obtain more footage.