Happy World Wildlife Day! This year’s theme is ‘Life below water: for people and planet’ focusing on marine species for the first ever time. We’re using it to celebrate some of the ocean’s most captivating – and often misunderstood – creatures, sharks!
Sharks aren’t just great whites and hammerheads – did you know there are more than 400 known species of shark in the world? And over 40 of these can be found living in or visiting UK waters, including some of the largest and fastest.
#1 Shortfin mako shark
The shortfin mako is the fastest shark in the sea, thought to be able to reach swimming speeds of nearly 50 mph. These sharks are apex predators, sitting right at the top of the food chain, and their speed enables them to catch fast-swimming prey such as tuna and swordfish. As well as being able to dive to depths of more than 400 feet, they can jump as high as 20 feet out of the water. Shortfin makos are spotted in waters all over the globe, and – although rare – are found from time to time in the seas around the UK and Ireland.
#2 Basking shark
The basking shark can reach lengths of up to 12 metres and is second in size only to the gigantic whale shark. These gentle giants are filter feeders, mostly dining on plankton. Basking sharks do not actively seek out food or suck in water, instead they swim with their mouths open, catching whatever goes through. Its huge mouth can open up to one metre wide! The basking shark is a seasonal visitor to the UK – the best time to spot one is between May and October, when a significant number of them arrive in British waters.
#3 Blue shark
Blue sharks are highly migratory and each year they make huge trans-Atlantic migrations, visiting the British Isles during the summer. They will often travel distances of over 5,000 miles in a single trip! These sharks are one of few which migrate in a “school”, or larger group of others. Interestingly, there is often a hierarchy with these schools, and they can be found segregated by size, sex – or paired in groups of all females or all males. Smaller sized blue sharks are sometimes prey for other, larger sharks like the great white or the tiger shark (these two have never been spotted in UK waters – yet!).
#4 Common thresher shark
Its name comes from its unusually large tail, which is more often than not, as long as the six metre shark itself. They use their unique tails like a whip to stun their prey. They have also been known to thresh around on the seabed, raising mud and disorientating surrounding fish, then easily picking them off. Common thresher sharks typically visit British waters in the summer but are not considered a common sight. Very occasionally they can be seen close to land, so keep your eyes peeled!
#5 Greenland shark
Greenland sharks are the second largest species of carnivorous shark after the great white. Whilst they can be found in very deep waters around the UK it is highly unlikely that you would ever cross paths with one, they are rarely encountered by humans and we know quite little about their life cycle. Sometimes referred to as the world’s most mysterious shark, footage of Greenland sharks swimming in their natural environment was not captured until 2003. Research has shown that these fascinating creatures could live to around 400 years old, making them the longest-lived vertebrates on the planet.
It’s estimated that a staggering 100 million sharks are killed every year worldwide because of unsustainable fishing practices, shark finning, overfishing and habitat destruction. If this continues, we are in danger of losing many of our iconic shark species forever.
Will you help us protect sharks in UK waters? Click here to visit our Shark Appeal and find out how you can help.