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Are shark sightings on the rise in the UK?

A woman was recently bitten by a blue shark off the coast of Cornwall

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

Last Thursday, a woman was bitten on the leg by a blue shark while snorkelling near Penzance, off the coast of Cornwall, in what was apparently the first unprovoked attack on a human in British waters since 1847. The HM Coastguard was called out and the woman was taken to hospital where she has since recovered.

It’s not the only shark sighting in the UK this year. In early July, a 12-foot-long basking shark was spotted off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales. And back in February, the UK’s ‘first great white shark’ was pictured off the south coast in West Sussex. Could shark sightings be on the rise in the UK?

Dr Georgia Jones, a conservation biologist and shark expert, is the founder of Shark Stuff, a charity researching sharks around the country. ‘Sightings in and of themselves are definitely on the rise,’ Jones said. ‘That’s partly because more people are looking and because we have better technology, like in-water cameras and drones. It’s also because some shark species are starting to recover from commercial fishing.’

However, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll actually come across one of these fine-finned creatures – unless you purposely go looking. If you’re enjoying your holidays and fancy a sea swim, Jones has said that you should ‘absolutely not be worried’.

‘All of our larger species, like the blue sharks involved in this [Cornwall] incident, generally like deep water, away from the coasts, unless they’re very poorly,’ she said.

‘Unless they’re sick or lost, blue sharks very rarely come anywhere near the shore,’ confirmed Richard Pierce, a shark conservationist. ‘The chance of the normal swimmer coming across a blue shark are infinitesimally remote.’

Climate change has changed the distribution of sharks around the world, but not necessarily affected population figures and many species are still under threat from human activity. Blue sharks are known to visit the UK during the summer from the Caribbean. 

According to the official British Sea Fishing website, only four fatal blue shark attacks have ever been recorded. The Cornwall incident occurred on an organised excursion to swim with blue sharks, far off shore with a tour operator. The company that organised the tour, Blue Shark Snorkel Trips, said in a statement that it was an ‘extremely rare’ incident. 

‘If blue sharks are encountered offshore in a controlled situation, with basic safety rules being observed, then there is no need to worry about them,’ said Pierce.

The victim from the Cornwall incident has said that she doesn’t want the freak accident to ruin the animal’s reputation. ‘I just wanted to say that despite how the trip ended, it was amazing to see such majestic creatures in the wild and I don’t for a second want this freak event to tarnish the reputation of an already persecuted species,’ she said in a statement shared by the trip operator. Jones added that sharks are ‘absolutely critical for our ecosystem’. 

In the first attack of its kind in 175 years, a woman has been bitten by a shark while snorkelling off the coast of Cornwall.

Apparently snake bites are on the rise too. So just how likely are you to get bitten in the UK?

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