The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Finding, And Saving, The Basking Shark

Some people get weak at the knees and start oohing and aahing when they see celebrities, but I generally save that reaction for the marine creatures who deign to grace our sojourn on the sea.

When dolphins weave complex patterns around the boat’s bow, humpbacks fling themselves into the sky only to have gravity pull them back down with an almighty splash, minkes arch their backs shyly before quietly disappearing into the depths, or when the huge fins of orcas sail by majestically—these are the occasions when I ooh and aah and consider myself to be the luckiest of people.

However, my interest in these animals pales in comparison to the lifelong fascination that Colin Speedie, AAC’s European Correspondent, has had with the basking shark. And, to his credit, he doesn’t only ooh and aah, he has channeled his passionate interest into action, working hard to bring about the conservation measures that have finally—hopefully—reversed the depredation that hunting and other human marine activities have wrought.

A Good Read

Colin’s fascination is very evident in his newly-published book, A Sea Monster’s Tale: In Search of the Basking Shark. It’s a comprehensive look at the biology of the basking shark and the history of human interaction with this huge fish—sadly not a positive relationship from the basking shark’s perspective.

But for me, at least, the most interesting part of the book is when Colin writes about his personal involvement with finding and counting basking sharks from a sailboat in the challenging waters off the west coast of Britain.

Not An Easy Job

The fact that Colin was able to conduct boat-based citizen-science studies safely and effectively for so many years, in a place that is not for the faint-of-heart sailor in the best of conditions, is a testament to his high level of seamanship.

Imagine dealing with the tides and filthy weather of Britain’s western seaboard, along with:

  • inexperienced volunteer crews rotating in and out on a weekly basis;
  • the requirement to follow a specific transect despite the weather (they would head for shelter if really bad, but their definition of really bad weather is slightly different than mine!);
  • and then, when they would finally find basking sharks, the need to safely manoeuvre the boat through shoals of these huge animals, who are completely oblivious to their pursuers due to their total focus on social or feeding behaviour.

Congratulations and Thank You

It emphasizes just how fortunate we are here at AAC to have access to Colin’s expertise, his dedication to protecting the marine environment, and his lyrical writing style.

Congratulations on your new book, Colin, and thank you for your role in making the marine environment a safer place for the basking shark and, thereby, a better place for those of us who voyage there.

As Colin writes: “Even the most beautiful places without their wild inhabitants are simply barren, devoid of a crucial part of their appeal, the very magic of life.”

Further Reading:

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Dick Stevenson

Hi Phyllis,
What a terrific post. Thank you very much for pursuing this important topic.
A number of years ago, at Colin’s direction to a likely location, Ginger and I had the pleasure of seeing a few of these magnificent fish off the island of Coll in the western isles of Scotland. As you portrayed, it was not the OH WOW experience that whales produce, but having a little education under our belt, it was terribly exciting.
So I urge people to get a little educated and Colin’s book would make a sterling start. I also have a suggestion: in our meanderings around Scotland this season, we made a point of requesting Colin’s book, and when they did not, suggested that it would be a real addition to their shelves.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi Phyllis,
I was listening to the Patrick O’Brian book The Commodore, from the Aubrey/Maturin series this morning. The Surprise was returning to Shelmaston (sp) after a long voyage and the sailors on board were noticing the changes on land that had occurred in their absence: One noticed that the tail on the Basking Shark wind vane on the steeple was broken. I would love to find out if there actually is such a wind vane.
And, Colin, that is an item that should definitely be part of your land based instruments.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Matt Marsh

Colin / Phyllis: Just curious, is an epub (or other e-reader) version of this book available for purchase?
I’m not opposed to buying the dead-tree edition, of course…. just getting a little spoiled by the sheer convenience of a Kobo when we’re travelling!

John Harries

Hi Matt,

I don’t think that Colin’s book is available as ePub, but I will check with him.