Manx Basking Shark Watch Research into basking sharks:
The 3 main aims of MBSW are:
- Raising public awareness of basking sharks: We do this by running this website (www.manxbaskingsharkwatch.com) and an online public sighting scheme. We also give talks and leaflets to schools and to the public. We encourage media articles and enable film crews to film basking sharks in Manx waters.
- Research into basking sharks: We do this to enable the government to make informed wildlife management decisions. We hope that this will help to save this endangered animal. We study basking shark courtship behaviour, migratory behaviour locally and world-wide (by archival satellite tagging and fin ID). We also study the movements, behaviour and distribution of basking sharks within Manx waters. We are trying to catalogue all the individual basking sharks that visit our waters. It appears that we do not have so very many sharks and we are trying to establish how many that is. This involves getting dorsal fin photos from each shark, establishing its sex with a pole camera and getting a size estimate relative to our 6m long boat HAPPY JACK. We then take a DNA swab from the dorsal fin with swab on the end of a long pole. This does not hurt the shark in any way. The DNA is being analysed in Aberdeen by Dr Les Noble's department.
- Coordination of worldwide scientific activity into basking sharks: We collaborate with other scientific groups including APECS and the Save our Seas Foundation. We have helped to organize a conference: “Basking Sharks: A Global Perspective”.
How to Take a Basking Shark Passport:
To take a basking shark passport we need very good quality information. If we have it we can identify the shark again and again, every time it comes back to Manx waters. If it goes elsewhere scientists will be able to identify it just by looking at its dorsal fin pictures. We could even identify it after its death by looking at its DNA of find out how closely related it is to other basking sharks by looking at its DNA profile.
We always do it in the same order to a very strict protocol that is licensed by the Manx Government's Department of Environment, (DEFA).
1: First we take high definition photographs of the left and right dorsal fin. This means that we can ID this animal again just by looking at the distinctive notches and marks on the fin. Here are a few examples of the dorsal fin photographs from the MBSW fin catalogue.
This shark is called '3-SPOT' for obvious reasons. These scars may have been caused by lampreys.
This one is called' STRIPEY' because of the multiple stripes down the right side of its dorsal fin. These may have been caused by nets being caught on the fin and digging in. We often see such injuries.
Theis shark is called "TOP_OFF" it has lost the top of its dorsal fin, probably to a propeller injury. it also has many notches down the trailing edge of its fin. We have these images at very high resolution. Photo: Jackie Hall 2012
2: Next we find out the sharks gender: We put a pole-camera into the water on a very long pole into the water under the shark. We look at the sharks genitalia to see if it is a male or a female.
Graham Hall of Manx Basking Shark Watch using a pole-camera to find out if the shark is male or female. The video footage is recorded for later analysis.
Sometimes we find out other things from the pole camera. We may see that a shark is tagged or we may see rub-marks from courtship or injuries from boat propellers.
3: Next we estimate the length of the shark: At the same time that the shark is alongside our 6m long boat for gendering we estimate the length of the shark relative to the boat. it is VERY hard to do this as the sharks have a very bendy cartilaginous skeleton.
You can see all 3 'points' of this basking shark, the nose, the dorsal fin and the tail fin. One minute you may estimate the shark's length at 4m and then a moment later the body and all three points have stretched out and you realise that you are looking at an 8m shark. This shark is feeding right at the surface because it is a very hot day and the plankton, its food, has gathered at the surface. You can see that the water has an oily, bubbly appearance, it is bubbling with life. Photo: Jackie Hall 2012.
4: Obtaining a DNA specimen. The next close approach is to swab the slimy skin on the coral fin to obtain a skin swab for DNA. this works in exactly the same way as taking a DNA swab from the inside of a humans cheek. It does not harm the shark in any way.
This picture shows a DNA swab being taken from the dorsal fin with a VERY long pole. We never get into the water with these endangered animals and everything is done with as little disturbance to the animal as possible. Photo Mal Kelly 2013
The DNA swab just touches the skin and a slimly black film is obtained: Photo MBSW 2012
One of the 'Dolphineer' volunteers, Haley Dolton, learning how to take a DNA sample from a basking shark. Photo MBSW 2012.
The skin slime on a pad. left to right, Jackie Hall and Graham Hall of Manx Basking Shark Watch and Haley Dolton, Dolphineer 2012. Photo MBSW 2012.
This matching pair of DNA 'runs' is the end result. the geneticists can identify individual sharks again and again from their DNA and see how closely related they are to one another. These two samples are from the same shark, taken on separate encounters with the same animal. This is vital information, enabling policy makers to make good decisions about how best to conserve these amazing animals. (Hardman et al 2011)
5: Putting a Satellite Tag on a basking shark: If we are lucky enough to have a satellite tag we may put one on the shark at this final stage. We have tagged 21 sharks like this thanks to the great generosity of various firms, most notably Tower Insurance of Douglas and Celton Manx. if you would like to sponsor a tag please contact us via this website.
Graham Hall of MBSW poised to deploy a £3,500 satellite tag July 26th 2012. The tag was generously sponsored by Tower Insurance of Douglas and placed upon a large male shark, 'Eric the Goliath'. We also tagged him in 2011.
Eric the Goliath's red satellite tag seen through the water 2 weeks after it was put onto him on 26th July 2012. Photo MBSW 2012
In 2011 'Eric the Goliath' did what most of the 21 basking sharks tagged in Manx waters have done, he stayed in the Irish and Celtic Seas for the duration of his 226 day tagging. His journey is shown below. However, we obviously have some transient travellers who just pass through, as evidenced by the tag put on 'Tracy the Tower Insurance Shark' who we tagged in 2007.
'Tracy' an 8m long sexually mature female basking shark, was tagged by MBSW and Marine Conservation International off Peel, Isle of Man in 2007. She crossed the Atlantic in just 82 days. She was therefore the first tagged basking sharks that have ever done this, proving a genetic link between the Eastern and Western Atlantic populations of basking sharks. (Gore et al 2008).
The MBSW Team:
Manx Basking Shark Watch (MBSW) is run by a team of volunteers and 2 Manx Wildlife Trust staff.
Marine biologist Jackie Hall, voluntary Marine Officer for the Manx Wildlife trust, is the MBSW coordinator. Graham Hall, an engineer, is the technical and boat officer. MBSW is headed by a steering committee, comprising Jackie and Graham, Dr Richard Hartnoll (chairman), Duncan Bridges (director of the Manx Wildlife Trust), Eleanor Stone (marine officer for the Manx Wildlife Trust) and Dr Fiona Gell (the Manx Government’s Marine Biodiversity officer). We could not run the public sighting scheme without the invaluable help of many volunteers. Jackie and Graham run their basking shark research boat ‘Happy Jack’ out of Port St Mary in the south of the Island.
Since 2010 we have been helped by the 'Dolphineers', a group of enthusiastic volunteers who have been invaluable to both this project and to the Manx Whale and Dolphin Group. They help man the research boat "Happy Jack' and do effort based watches for basking sharks, whales and dolphins from the shore. If you would like to volunteer please contact Eleanor Stone via this website.
The text has been written by Jackie Hall (MSc, BSc hons, BA) Voluntary Marine Officer for the Manx Wildlife Trust. This website, with it's online reporting system, has been constructed by Paul Steer of Delta IT Services www.deltait.co.uk. He also constructed the website for Manx