Snorkeler's close encounter with 9ft basking shark

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Media caption,

The harmless shark moved closer and swam within a metre of Mr Nisbet.

A wildlife ranger had a close encounter with a young basking shark in the St Kilda archipelago.

The endangered animal, measuring almost 3m (9ft) long, was spotted at Village Bay on the island of Hirta.

Craig Nisbet, who works for National trust for Scotland (NTS), grabbed his snorkelling gear and camera in the hope of photographing it from a distance.

During Mr Nisbet's swim, the harmless shark moved closer and swam within a metre of him.

Basking sharks migrate from waters off west Africa to Scotland's west coast where they gather to breed.

The fins and snout of the young shark were visible from the beach at Village Bay.

Mr Nisbet, a seabird and marine ranger with NTS, kept his distance and managed to snap a "blurry" image of the shark.

While swimming back to shore, he paused near a mooring buoy and was "in awe" as the shark swam towards him and passed within 2m, and then again at about 1m away.

Image source, Craig Nisbet
Image caption,
The young shark was feeding on zooplankton

Mr Nisbet said: "I returned to land, scarcely able to believe what I'd just seen. I washed my camera and downloaded my images and video and was delighted with the images and footage I'd captured."

The ranger added : "It was clearly feeding, occasionally closing its mouth to swallow microscopic zooplankton sifted out through the water as it went."

Basking sharks are the world's second largest fish, after whale sharks, growing up 10m long.

Its size and upturned snout indicated it was a young animal - the second young basking shark to be spotted off St Kilda in the last two weeks.

The islands of St Kilda, 40 miles west of the Western Isles, are a Unesco-designated World Heritage Site managed and protected by NTS.

There are strict rules around wildlife watching, and organisations such as NatureScot have advice on how to observe legally protected marine animals while avoiding causing them distress.

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