Tuesday, August 26, 2008


26th August 2008

No McJaws. Misquoted by The SUN (again).

Hi Shark Diver,

What a surprise!

For those of you who know me and think I have gone crazy, and those who do not and assume I must be some armchair “expert”, can I assure you that much of what I was supposed to have said came purely from the imagination of the journalist concerned. Sun Article. I would not claim to be a shark expert, but have caught a few in the course of fisheries research in the Arabian Gulf and Ecuadorian waters, and have for the last ten years taken an interest in their occurrence, identification and conservation in the North East Atlantic and particularly around Britain.

I was ‘phoned on Friday morning by the said journalist, and from his description immediately said that it sounded like one of the porbeagles that are regularly seen around North Sea oil rigs. They seem to take advantage of the fish that benefit from these effective “no-take zones” and feed on the sessile organisms and other found on these structures. These porbeagles are perfectly harmless and inquisitive, almost friendly, having given many divers a shock when they turn up to inspect them at work.

When the photo concerned was sent through to me, I immediately phoned him back and told him that as expected it was definitely a Porbeagle and went through the identifying features with him. I told him that though related to and similar to a white shark there was no possibility that this was one. I have since found out that this video footage was taken three years ago.

With regard to the possibility of a white shark turning up in British waters I said that they may well have been here in the past and there was absolutely no reason that they could not occur except the great rarity of the species in the North East Atlantic (4 records from Biscay in 19th century, one in 20th and a possible sighting in 21st). Unlike Richard Peirce, I doubt that they have occurred here in the recent past, but ready to consider any evidence, especially since Ramon Bonfil’s studies in the Indian Ocean have shown that they are quite capable of crossing from the North West Atlantic population.

I made no mention about waters around rigs being warmer; is it? And said that they can occur from 5° to 22°C, preferring 14° to 17°C, hence they would have no problem in North Sea waters.

I further pointed out that even if they were present in the North Sea, there was no serious danger as there was a known population in the Mediterranean, but no human fatalities in the last 30 years (unless Sharkman or Alessandro can correct me).

Subsequently on Monday (I was not in as it was a Bank Holiday in England) the Sun contacted my colleague the Curator, Steve Matchett, with regard to a shark tooth found on a beach at Menai Bridge in North Wales. From the photograph he was able to say that it was either a white shark tooth or a very good replica, but since it had a neat hole drilled at the centre of the base since being in a shark it had almost certainly been on a necklace. Article.

I have seriously considered refusing to give interviews to The Sun, as this is the second time they have claimed that I have certified a shark as the “First British Great White”. However, as a major part of my role is to TRY to get the media to cover the marine environment and the life in it in a positive way, and to increase media coverage of marine matters, I feel I must persist with what is the most-read paper in Britain, in the hope that one day they will publish a decent story highlighting the incredible wildlife in British seas and the need to conserve it.

Douglas Herdson
Information Officer
National Marine Aquarium
Rope Walk
Plymouth PL4 0LF

Telephone: (+44)01752 275216/01752 600301
Fax: (+44)01752 275217
Email: Douglas.Herdson@national-aquarium.co.uk
website www.national-aquarium.co.uk
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