A man-eating shark is feared to be prowling the waters off West Cornwall after two separate sightings of the predator considered the most dangerous of its species.
The vicious shark, believed to be an oceanic whitetip, was spotted by the occupants of two mackerel fishing boats a mile off the holiday hotspot of St Ives.
Experts have conceded the description tallies with oceanic whitetips and are investigating the claim. If confirmed, it would mark the first time the creature – responsible for more human deaths than all other shark species combined – had strayed into British waters.
One of the fisherman told the Western Morning News how the shark rammed his wooden fishing boat.
The 60-year-old, who has been fishing in St Ives Bay all his life, said it was a clear, calm morning when his attention was caught by the unusual and distinctive mottled white tipped dorsal fin zig-zagging towards him.
“I was interested so I stood up to have a good look at it. As I was looking over the side of the boat, it just slammed into it. Then its head came out of the water by about a foot.
“It was that close to the boat that it slammed the side of the boat with its body and tail.
“It came as a bit of a shock. It was aggressive and we don’t tend to have aggressive sharks in these waters.”
The fisherman, who has asked not to be named, said he was clearly able to identify the 6-7ft-long shark and knew it was not a harmless porbeagle, which frequently follow mackerel boats.
“I have been fishing in these waters all my life and I have seen all sorts, but I have never seen one of those and I have never had a shark ram my boat.
“This was an aggressive shark. I was in a 16ft boat, but if I had been in a kayak it could have easily had a bite at my legs.”
The fisherman fired up his motor and headed over to the nearest boat, a couple of hundred yards away. He told them what had happened, then decided to return to St Ives, where he reported the incident to the harbour master.
About 10 minutes later, the two fisherman on board the second boat were circled by the shark.
One of them said: “We blatantly saw it, the two of us and I am 100 per cent sure it was a oceanic whitetip.”
He described the distinctive white tips of the dorsal and lower pectoral fins.
“The water was crystal clear and we had a perfect view. It was just going round in the water. Its pectoral fins were very long and like wings.
“When we got home and looked it up on the computer, it was exactly what we had seen.
“It was pretty scary when you think about it.”
Richard Peirce, chairman of The Shark Trust, which promotes conservation and study of the creatures, said more work was needed to confirm whether the shark was an oceanic whitetip.
“It is always exciting and interesting to get sighting reports of what may be new species to our waters, but it is impossible to comment constructively in the absence of evidence.
“Elements of the description we have heard are consistent with oceanic whitetips, but to date there are no confirmed reports of oceanics in UK waters, which are outside the temperature range usually tolerated by this species.”
St Ives deputy harbourmaster Ian Kemp confirmed the sighting had been reported to the office. He said an oceanic whitetip shark had never been seen in the waters around Cornwall before, but believed any occurrence would be “a one off, rogue animal”.
Oceanic whitetips, not to be confused with docile reef whitetip sharks, prefer deep, open water and have been seen off the coast of Spain and Portugal. In 2004, a dead oceanic whitetip was washed up on the west coast of Sweden, well beyond its normal range.
It rarely strays into shallower waters, but is a deadly hunter responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than all other shark species combined. It preys on survivors of downed aircraft and shipwrecks and notoriously during the Second World War was blamed for a feeding frenzy which killed more than 800 people from the Nova Scotia, which was sunk by a German U boat off the coast of South Africa.