August 2016 – News

Thresher Shark Caught: A group of anglers caught a 368lb thresher shark off the coast of Cornwall this month. The shark was caught on a whole mackerel bait and jumped out of the water twice during the hour long fight to get it on board. The shark was released after it was weighed and photos were taken and swam off strongly. At 368lb the thresher shark beats the existing British record of 323lbs which has stood since 1982. However, to be a verifiable British record and fish needs to be weighed on dry land – meaning that the shark will inevitably have to be killed to achieve this. For this reason this thresher shark will not be eligible to set a new British record and will instead go on the Notable Fish List. The men who caught the thresher shark were praised by the Shark Trust for releasing the fish, and the catch raises question marks over the issue of having to kill fish to claim records in these days of declining fish stocks and a higher emphasis on conservation. Read more and see pictures of the shark by following this link.

Further Shark Catches and Sightings: The warmer weather at this time of year has led to further notable sightings and catches of shark species. A 9ft 2in long, 242lb blue shark was caught off the coast of Wales at Milford Haven this month. Danny Fitch, a builder from Norfolk, caught the shark twenty miles out to sea after a 45 minute battle. Again this fish would have been eligible as a record catch but was returned to the sea after being photographed. See pictures and read more here. A strange shark incident was reported this month on a charter boat off the coast of Cornwall. Charter boat skipper Matt Robins described how a customer was reeling in a blue shark which had taken a bait 50ft underneath the boat when it was attacked by a larger creature. When the blue shark was landed it had large bite marks to its neck and head. Mr. Robins estimated that the species which attacked the blue shark must have been at least 300lb in weight. See pictures and read more here.

Great White Shark Sighted Off Cornwall?: A birdwatcher claims to have spotted a great white shark off the coast of Cornwall. Brian Mellows, 59, was with other birdwatchers when he saw what he thought was a basking shark approaching. However, when a wave crashed over the shark he recognised it as a great white, which he estimated was six or seven metres long. Mr. Mellows explained that the shark was spotted next to rocks which seals often rested on, possibly explaining why the shark was in that area. However, Mr. Mellows did not have a camera with him so could not take any photographic evidence of the shark, and also said that the other birdwatchers did not see the shark as they were distracted by a rare bird which had simultaneously arrived nearby. While there have not been any confirmed sightings of great white sharks in British waters tagged great whites making their way to the Mediterranean have swam close to the British coastline, and warming sea temperatures are making British waters – especially those around the South West – an increasingly suitable habitat for great white sharks. Read more here.

Bluefin Tuna Caught by Teenager: A 160lb tuna was caught off the coast of Cornwall by 16-year-old Joe Amos. He was fishing with his father for blue sharks when the fish took his bait, with the pair initially believing that they had caught a mako or porbeagle shark. After fifty minutes the fish was landed and it became clear that they had hooked a Bluefin tuna. The species is usually found in the Mediterranean and warm water areas of the Atlantic, but evidence is growing that they are making their way back to waters around the UK. The tuna was returned to the water once it had been photographed. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Deaths Around UK Coast Lead to Safety Calls: A number of deaths around the UK coastline have led to calls for better safety. High spring tides, unseasonably stormy weather and a lack of knowledge about the danger the sea poses were seen as contributory factors in many of the tragic deaths. A father and daughter both lost their lives when they were swept off rocks reports the Telegraph, while a swimmer, windsurfer and several members of a family in Scotland also lost their lives after getting into difficulties in the water near to Aberdeen, as reported by the BBC here. Following this news five men lost their lives off Camber Sands in East Sussex after swimming in the sea as the BBC reported. The five were all men in their late teens and early twenties and had travelled to the area from Greater London for a day trip. Questions have asked why no life guards were present on the beach which was packed with tourists on one of the hottest days of the year. It was later announced that life guards would be on duty over the bank holiday weekend at the end of August and this was later extended to cover the remainder of the summer. At the end of August a 17-year-old boy died in the sea off the coast of Sunderland, as stated in local press in the area. He was believed to have been in a dinghy and then got out to swim and got into difficulties. He was taken to hospital but later died. The spate of deaths has led to calls for better safety and increased education about the dangers and risks of entering the sea, as well as better lifeguard cover for popular areas in the summer months.

Bass Ban in 2017?: The Daily Express reported this month that bass could be taken off every British menu with a total ban on catching bass next year. The paper quoted the report from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (a global advisory body which sets scientific advice on catch limits and fishing quotas) which stated that bass stocks are now in a perilous situation. Driven by increasing popularity in restaurants and unsustainable fishing the number of bass has fallen from a healthy level in 2010 to dangerously low levels now, and there is real concern that the spawning stock is being reduced to the point where the long-term survival of the species is in doubt. Making bass catch and release only for anglers and placing some limits on commercial fishing has done little to restore stocks, and if the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s advice is taken then all fishing for bass – both recreational and commercial – could be stopped for all of 2017. Read the Daily Express article by clicking here.

Brexit and UK Fishing: The government has began to look at the implications of Brexit for UK fisheries. A report published on the government’s website stated that possible implications for the UK leaving the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy included the UK gaining exclusive rights to territorial waters up to 200 miles from UK shores, possibly trading access to these waters to EU nations, less influence in determining EU market rules for fish and the introduction of a new UK fisheries management system. The post-Brexit future of the UK’s commercial fishing industry is still unclear, but non-EU countries such as Norway and Iceland have thriving fishing industries and will surely be used as a model to show how nation’s outside of the EU can successfully manage their own fisheries. Read a summary of the report here.

Smooth Hound Panic: A dead smooth hound washed up on a Lincolnshire beach this month, causing panic to some individuals on social media. The small shark species – which is relatively common around the UK – does not grow any much longer than 4ft in length and feeds primarily on crustaceans. However, this did not stop some members of the public becoming concerned about their safety with one commenter posting a picture of the smooth hound on Facebook and saying that he definitely wouldn’t be going in the water, and another writing “I’m not even having a paddle in the sea now.” Read the article by clicking here.

Greenland Shark Lifespan: The deep sea species Greenland shark made international news this month when it was established that this species of shark is one of the longest living animals in the world. It had long been assumed that Greenland sharks had very long lifespans due to their slow rate of growth, about 1cm per year. However, there had been no way of confirming the age that these creatures could reach until researchers at the University of Copenhagen discovered a way of analysing proteins in the eye lens of the shark which gave an accurate age of each of twenty-eight specimens they worked on. They discovered that one five metre long shark was at least 272 years old, and could have been as old as 512. They calculated that the most likely age was 390 years. Based on their growth rate the researchers calculated that Greenland shark would have to be 156 years old before they become sexually mature. Greenland shark are only targeted by fishermen in isolated arctic communities and have no value on a wider commercial basis, but they are sometimes caught as bycatch by commercial vessels. The researchers stated that fishermen should do everything they can to minimise bycatch of this species as its very slow growth rate and late reproduction age mean it would be very hard for numbers to recover if they were reduced. Read the full article on the National Geographic website here, and the entry on Greenland sharks on this website here.

Concern Over Deep Sea Mining: This month conservationists and biologists raised concerns over the environmental damage which could be caused by large scale deep sea mines. With minerals and elements becoming increasingly expensive to extract from the earth plans are being drawn up to mine the seabed. Minerals and metals such as cobalt, silver, copper, nickel and platinum are present on the seabed and are often of a higher quality than those found on land. With applications ranging from use in solar panels, high end electronic devices and hybrid cars the demand is high, and it is becoming increasingly financially viable to mine them from the seabed. Canadian mining company Nautilus is seeking to be the first to commercially mine the seabed, and has plans to use two machines known as ‘cutters’ to extract valuable minerals and metals out of the seabed off the coast of Papa New Guinea. Weighing several hundred tons each the cutters will move across the seabed on caterpillar tracks and use spinning toothed wheels to cut into the seabed and create a form of slurry which is then pumped to the surface and send back to land where it is processed and the valuable materials removed. While the company has said that the project has been designed to minimise scientific impact and the seabed should fully recover within five to ten years of the mining finishing. However, conservationists have pointed out that lights, sediment, noise, oil and chemical leaks and tearing up of the seabed will all have a hugely damaging impact on some of the most delicate and vulnerable ecosystems in the world. Nautilus were due to start mining operations in 2018, but funding and technical issues have pushed the date back indefinitely. Read the full article on this story here.

Drift Net Ban: A local councillor in Devon has claimed that a ban on drift netting in estuaries would put the last remaining fishermen in Appledore out of work. Large trawlers no long work out of the port, with the remaining fishing industry relying on small scale fishermen. However, the decline of bass stocks has led to the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) to begin the process of banning drift netting in estuaries in the area. This has led to Cllr. Phillip Hackett to say that this measure would risk the livelihoods of the fishermen as they need to use drift nets in the estuary to catch bass, sea trout and salmon. In an interview in the Plymouth Herald Cllr. Hackett claimed that the decline in bass was “disputed” and that new regulations brought in by the Devon and Severn IFCA would risk “the very existence of the Appledore fishing industry.” Read the full article here.

Microbead Pollution: The damage to the marine environment caused by microbeads was again in the news this month. Microbeads are added to shower gels, toothpastes, face washes and other cosmetic products and are immensely damaging to the marine environment as they are consumed by immature fish and harm creatures which filter feed. There are concerns that microbeads could enter the human food chain when larger fish which humans eat prey on smaller species which have microbeads inside them. Microbeads are almost impossible to remove from the world’s seas and oceans as they bypass the filtration systems of sewage plants. Around eighty six tons of microplastics and microbeads are released from the use of cosmetic products in the UK alone, and a single shower can release 100,000 microbeads into the sea. MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee said that a ban on microbeads was needed on an international basis to try and reduce the problem, and the UK should also introduce a national ban within eighteen months. Most major cosmetics manufacturers have committed to phasing microplastics out of their product ranges by the year 2020. It is currently estimated that there are already somewhere between 15 – 50 trillion microplastic particles in the world’s seas and oceans, with areas from tropical oceans to arctic sea ice containing microplastic pollution. Read more here.

Painful Fishing Hook Incident: A German nudist was left left in agony after getting his penis caught on angler’s fishing hook. Herbert Fendt* was swimming in a lake near Augsberg in Bavaria when he felt a sharp pain in his groin. He soon realised that he had a fishing hook pierced his penis and had to call out to the angler not to reel in. On reaching land Mr. Fendt was unable to remove the hook himself and had to cycle home before going to hospital where the hook was removed. He is expected to make a full recovery and says he plans to return to the lake again. Read the full story here.

* Herbert Fendt is a pseudonym, the man in question is understandably not using his real name in the reporting of this story.

Ambergris Find: A father and son believe they have found a lump of whale vomit worth £65,000. Alan Derrick and his son Tom found the “smelly, rubbery rock” while walking along the beach at Weston-super-Mare and believed the substance was ambergris – a waste product which is vomited out by sperm whales. Despite its somewhat unpleasant nature ambergris is in high demand by perfume manufacturers where it is used as a fixative to makes scents last longer. Its rarity means that ambergris can be very valuable with Derrick putting the ambergris he had collected up for sale on eBay for £65,000. However, the Daily Mirror stated that he has only carried out initial tests at home to confirm that it is ambergris and is still waiting for the results of samples sent to France, Italy and New Zealand to come back. In 2013 Ken Wilman thought he had found a lump of ambergris worth £100,000 on Morcambe beach, but eventually discovered that the substance he had found was not ambergris and was in fact worthless. Read the full story and see pictures here.

Lobsters Stolen: Lobsters worth around £1,300 have been stolen from a fisherman in Methil Docks in eastern Scotland. Around 150 lobsters were being stored by a fisherman in a container but were hand-picked out between 1am and 5am on the morning of 22nd August. Sargent Craig Fyall from Levenmouth Police Station said that it might appear to be a “comical incident” but the livelihood of the fisherman had been put at risk by the theft. Restaurants and fishmongers in the area were told to be vigilant for people attempting to sell a large quantity of lobsters. Read the BBC News article on this story here.

New York Governor Kills Thresher Shark: Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York State caused controversy this month when he posted a photo of himself posing with a dead thresher shark to social media. He tweeted two photos of himself and friends standing next to the shark as it was suspended from a rope on the harbuorside, adding that it weighted 154.5lbs and was caught from the south side of Long Island. It later emerged that he had caught the shark with his brother who is a newsreader on CNN. The reaction on social media was immediate, with conservationists and New Yorkers alike condemning Cuomo’s behaviour and poor judgement of killing the shark. All three species of thresher shark are classed as Vulnerable (the category just before Endangered) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. John Hourston, founder of the ocean conservation group Blue Plant Society said that Cuomo’s posting of the picture showed “an almost unfathomable lack of judgment for a public servant, and sets a terrible example to the world.” He also likened the occasion to the killing of Cecil the lion by the American dentist and recreational big game hunter Walter Palmer, an incident which caused international outrage last year. A spokesperson for Cuomo said that the shark was edible, native to New York waters and that it was allowable under state and federal laws to kill thresher sharks. Read the full Guardian article on this here.

Long Finned Pilot Whales: One of the world’s most mysterious species of whales has been spotted close to the mainland of the British Isles this month. Long finned pilot whales usually live far away from land beyond the continental shelf, but from the middle of August onwards there have been four sightings in the Irish Sea and off the coast of Wales. The group Sea Watch Foundation said that the whales had probably been brought closer to land by an abundance of food and said that any sighting of this specie of whale should be reported. Read more by clicking here.