A few days ago I was fortunate enough to get in to the water off Cornwall with a couple of blue sharks (Prionace glauca). Getting some good images of blues had been high on my ‘to do’ list for several years, but for one reason or another it had not happened. In part this was a result of the dreadful summers we have had in the UK for the past few years; wet and windy and severely limiting the number of days when it was possible to spend all day offshore in a small boat (and limiting even more the number of days one would want to). This summer has so far been perfect, high temperates and light winds.
Blue sharks are highly migratory, with strong evidence for there being a single well-mixed population within the Atlantic Ocean and seasonal trans-Atlantic migration. Some studies indicate a crosswise annual migration across the temperate zone of the Atlantic but evidence for this is inconclusive. What we do know is that blue sharks start to appear off the tip of Cornwall in early July and remain around Southwest England until late September.
Off the tip of Cornwall is one of the best areas to see blues; it also has the advantage of exceptionally clear water. Most are found at least five miles offshore, so with the longish drive an early start was required. By 10a.m. we were drifting with the current, a nice fish oil slick trailing from our chum bag, cameras ready and waiting. The sky was blue, the sun hot, the sea ruffled by a light breeze and our spirits were high. And we waited. Mid-afternoon a brief flurry of excitement: two sharks arrived within the space of an hour, grabbed our mackerel bait….. and disappeared. By 4.30pm our hopes were fading and our thoughts turning to when we could schedule the next trip. Suddenly at 4.45pm a third shark arrived. A smallish female, probably around 5ft, but most importantly she showed none of the skittishness of the previous two. She was interested in the fishy smell from our chum bag and she was hanging around. It took a real effort of will to stay calm, remain on the boat and allow her time to settle – what if she also suddenly disappeared? However, after a few minutes Charles, the boat skipper, gave us the nod and Richie and I slipped gently and quietly in to the water. As we swum towards her she showed no fear at all, appearing quite curious about us, to the extent that she temporarily lost interest in the chum bag and began cicling us as we drifted slowly from the boat. Time and again we would swing around to make close passes, to the extent that she occasionally had to be gently pushed away as she came nose to nose. A more obliging photographic model I could not have wished for. Around 20 minutes passed in a flash, at which point she became bored with us and disappeared. Yet no sooner had we climbed back in to the boat than a larger female arrived. She definately wasn’t timid; before anyone could react she had grabbed the chum bag and was tearing it to pieces. Within seconds the water around the boat was a murky brown from the contents of the chum bag and the bag itself shredded.
This was too good an opportunity to miss, all four of us hit the water. She was a real beauty. Between 6 and 7 ft long, the most dazzling vivid blue on her dorsal surface with deep indigo patches near her dorsal fin, pure white on her underside. As she passed close the mating scars left by the males teeth could be clearly seen on her head neck and back. For more than 30 minutes she hung around. circling us. It was almost 6pm when we finally climbed out of the water. Tired but very happy.
Our trip was on board the RIB of Charles Hood (charleshoodphotography.com). Charles regularly runs basking shark and blue shark trips from Penzance, Cornwall. I would heartily recommend him.
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