Highlands & Islands

Scottish basking shark tagging project to be extended

Image caption Tags are to be fitted to more basking sharks as they gather off Scotland's west coast this summer

A basking shark tagging and tracking project is to be extended for another year.

Last year, eight sharks were satellite tagged off Scotland's west coast and their travels could be followed online.

One of the sharks was tracked to the west coast of Portugal and another swam 1,864 miles (3,000km) to the Canary Islands off west Africa.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter plan to tag 29 sharks this summer.

The project aims to increase understand of the behaviour of the fish which gather in large numbers around the islands of Coll, Tiree and Canna every summer.

The work is also part of a wider programme of marine research led by SNH and Scottish government agency Marine Scotland.

Results from the tagging project will help the government decide whether a Marine Protected Area should be put in place to safeguard the sharks and balance environmental interests with industry and recreation.

Dr Suzanne Henderson, an SNH officer who is managing the project, said last year's tagging had some fascinating results.

She said: "It was a surprise to see one swim as far south as Africa.

"Another year of tagging will build on the work we've already done, increasing our confidence in the results and giving us more information on which to base decisions."

Dr Matthew Witt, of the University of Exeter, said: "Sharks play an important role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems hence their conservation is important.

"In addition to the eight sharks tagged with real-time satellite transmitters last year, a further 12 sharks were tagged with technology that stores data on the tag for transmission at a later date.

"We're looking forward to analysing the data from these over the next few months, once all the tags have detached from their sharks."

Basking sharks were recorded shoaling in large numbers off Scotland's coast during last year's research.

Researcher Colin Speedie said shoals of 73 fish were counted off Coll.

A shoal of 50 fish were also recorded around Hyskeir, a group of rocky islets near Canna.

SNH uploaded a the video explaining the activity to YouTube.

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