To those who relate sharks to tropical waters and James Bond, the very phrase “British sharks” is absurd. Are there any?
Any that haven’t got lost on the way to somewhere else?
And are they all as harmless as the 4.9m (16ft) basking shark that paid a visit to Porthcurno, Cornwall causing great excitement among swimmers and surfers?
In fact, says Ali Hood, director of conservation at the Shark Trust, a UK charity dedicated to promoting the study, management and conservation of sharks, there are about 30 species native to British waters.
They range in size from 40cm to 11m (36ft), and include filter-feeders and predators.
We have blue sharks, shortfin makos, and blackmouth dogfishes; thresher sharks, starry smoothhounds and porbeagles; frilled sharks, bramble sharks and sharpnose sevengills.
They can be pretty elusive: that last trio, for example, are deep-water species, very unlikely to toddle up to a beach. Hood points out that you are “unlikely to sight any species bar a basking shark unless you’re fishing or diving”.
This isn’t just because they hide out in deep cold waters: half of British sharks are endangered. Within the past five years the angel shark has become extinct in the North Sea; the common skate (part of the shark family) is now at 10% of its former population levels.
As for the man-eating great whites, there is no solid evidence of visitations.
“If white sharks were resident in our waters, we would know,” says Hood. “They’d be caught up in fishing nets or beached. That’s not to say that one hasn’t passed through. Porbeagles are very closely related – physically, visually, you can get confused.”
Will any of the British sharks attack? “Not unless provoked. As with any wild animal, if you give them due respect, you should have no cause for concern.”