Sunday, May 8, 2011

Basking Sharks declining nationally and disappearing from our inshore waters

Basking sharks- heading towards extinction in New Zealand’s waters

News brief
Peter Langlands

09 May 2011

The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world, reaching a size of up to 12 metres. These spectacular sharks have declined rapidly in New Zealand’s waters in the last 20 years. There are now serious concerns about the conservation of basking sharks in New Zealand.
While schools of basking sharks were sighted frequently in Canterbury’s inshore waters up until the mid- 1990’s, few sharks have been seen in recent years. The Department of Conservation is keen to place satellite transmitters on basking sharks, yet despite trying hard to locate sharks, they have failed to do so for several years now. DOC is urgently asking fisherman and members of public to report basking shark sightings, real time, so that satellite transmitters can be placed on them so we can learn more about this enigmatic species.
Basking sharks often come close inshore over the spring and summer months. They are at risk from entanglement in set nets and cray-pot ropes. Each year basking sharks are also taken as by catch by trawlers. Often destroying the net due to their large size. Yet the sharks are valuable and the livers and fins from an individual shark may reach $10, 000. The species is monitored by the international conservation groups. Basking sharks may also be at risk from increasing amounts of plastic pollution as they are a plankton feeding species. Basking sharks are also preyed upon by Orca. In 2009 DOC processed requests for the export of basking shark fins from about seven fish
In anyone sees a basking shark they are encouraged to report it to their nearest Department of Conservation Office as soon as possible. The satellite tracking project is being funded by National Geographic. Hopefully some sharks will be found to tag. Basking sharks are recognised by their large black triangular fin and habit of swimming slowly on the surface- hence their name. The shark’s body appears quite black from a distance, but at closer range is a blackish- brown mottle. It is ultimately the basking sharks large size that distinguishes them from most other shark species. It would be a pity to lose this giant of our ocean realm.