World’s first protected area for basking sharks to be set up in Scotland

The Scottish Government has proposed a new protected area for basking sharks in UK waters - it would be the first of its kind in the world and conservationists are asking the public for help to make it happen

Conservationists are asking the public to support a proposal to create a protected area off the coast of Scotland where basking sharks can thrive. The Sea of the Hebrides Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of four new locations suggested by the Scottish Government – the proposals are currently at the public consultation stage.

The Sea of Hebrides MPA would be created between the Western Isles and the coasts of Skye, Mull and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula; it is one of the most popular gathering areas for basking sharks when they visit the UK between May and October.

Conservation groups including the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Marine Conservation Society say this new MPA would offer the sharks, as well as other species such as minke whales and dolphins, additional protection by controlling potentially harmful activity in the area.

Basking sharks are often spotted off the coast of the Hebrides in Scotland

Basking sharks are the largest fish found in Scottish waters and the second largest in the world. For much of the 20th Century they were hunted almost to extinction – it is estimated that almost 100,000 basking sharks were culled in the North Atlantic during the 19th and 20th Centuries. They have been protected in Scotland since 1998, but are still under threat from fishing gear, boats and pollution from microplastics; they can also be accidentally caught by fishermen.

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‘We know Scotland’s wildlife and environmental quality are of immense value, both in their own right and to our global reputation, and so are delighted that these new sites are being proposed,’ said Calum Duncan from the Marine Conservation Society. ‘We urge as many people as possible to join our campaign to ensure basking sharks, and other features, have better protection in Scottish waters.’

Dr Sam Collin from the Scottish Wildlife Trust added: ‘Basking sharks are only in Scottish seas for around six months of the year but it is vital that we do all we can to protect them from harm. The proposed MPA is a welcome step forward for the conservation of this threatened species, and adds to a growing network of protected areas around Scotland.’

Campaigners are asking the public to support the proposal by visiting by Friday 30 August.

Test your basking shark knowledge – five facts about basking sharks

  • Basking sharks were hunted for the oil in their huge livers, which can account for 25% of their total body weight.
  • They are the second largest fish in the world and can grow up to 12 metres long and weigh up to seven tonnes.
  • They only swim at around 3 miles per hour,
  • It is thought that basking sharks live for around 50 years
  • Basking sharks feed on zooplankton and have mouths which can be up to one-metre wide.