Here we go again. As Carve Surfing Mag puts it: “the annual summer great whitey story has hit the shelves, or [the] internet whichever you prefer.”
Yes, it’s true: some UK newspapers have been posting ‘panic-inducing’ articles about great white sharks off the British coast, just weeks before the UK school holidays (when thousands of UK families will be heading to the coast). Not everyone is taking the same perspective, though.
The media’s take on the story
The Independent published a story, this morning, claiming that a great white is hunting off Hayling Island, near Portsmouth, and has been spotted by shark angler Graeme Pullen. The article reads:
Graeme Pullen, from Hampshire, reeled in the largest shark ever caught off the UK coast in 2012—and the sea angler is now warning anyone planning a British beach holiday to watch their toes.
He said he has been trying to catch the aquatic predator, reportedly sighted near Hayling Island near Portsmouth, for the last two years.
The article then goes on to explain that Pullen has previously caught hundreds of species of shark off the British coast, tagging them for the US National Marine Fisheries Service.
This time, though, Pullen has apparently warned that this is “the big one”, saying: “This is no basking shark, no porbeagle, blue or mako”.
Quoting from Richard Peirce, chairman of the Shark Trust, the article then explains that great whites are able to tolerate British coastal water temperates:
In an interview with the BBC, Peirce said ‘Research has shown that white sharks tolerate water temperatures in a range which would make British waters perfectly suitable for this species.’
However, Carve Surfing Mag takes a different stance, emphasising that Piece has never come across a great white in UK waters, even though he’s spent many years hunting for them:
Carve has repeatedly spoken to Richard Peirce, chairman of the Shark Trust, who has been hunting for large sharks for years and while the conditions in waters around the UK are suitable for great whites to be visitors, he has never come across one.
The Shark Trust say media is ‘in a frenzy’
Following the recent media attention, The Shark Trust has posted on their Facebook page. The post explains that while sharks are “present in British and Mediterranean waters…there is no evidence of [great] white sharks being present in British waters.”
The post goes on to accuse the media of “being in a frenzy once again” and reminds people that many shark species are in fact threatened in the Med. and should be protected.
So, it’s currently unclear whether or not this recent sighting is genuine. We do know, though, that in 2014 a great white shark, called Lydia, was detected 1,000 miles away from the UK and heading towards the British Isles. Tracked by the scientists at shark research organisation Oceach the shark has since travelled more than 19,000 miles, eventually returning to the tropics.
As a side note, you can track Lydia and other sharks worldwide on the fantastic Ocearch tracker here (it’s pretty cool): www.ocearch.org/#SharkTracker
Is the media response irresponsible?
It is important to consider the media response to these reports. As The Shark Trust suggests, these articles can affect people’s perspective on shark conservation efforts. In light of recent shark attacks occurring in warmer waters around the world (such as those found off Reunion Island), is the UK media right to approach this subject with fear, or are they simply contributing to the problem with possible misinformation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Featured image: elevy/Flickr