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West university's shark tagging project reveals fascinating secrets of the deep

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 14, 2012

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Basking sharks being tracked by satellite in Scottish waters have begun to reveal some secrets.

The last of 20 sharks was tagged last week by scientists from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter, as part of a project to find out more about their life cycle.

The results of the project will help inform decisions about marine protected areas and the future management of Britain's marine environment.

The tags, which allow the public to track the movements of eight of the sharks online, show that in the last three or four weeks, many have stayed around the Inner Hebrides where they were tagged, while one has made its way south east to Colonsay and Jura and two have headed west to the open sea beyond the Outer Hebrides.

The tracking website has already proved popular with the public, with 42,000 hits since it went live on 15 July. Names for the eight of the sharks have been chosen from over 200 suggestions from the public.

They are Elgol, Solas, Cearban, Gill, Marna, Cailleach, Roy and Fionnlagh.

Dr Suzanne Henderson from SNH, who is managing the basking shark tagging project, said: "It's fascinating to see where the sharks have been going since they were tagged. We're keen to learn more about the behaviour of the sharks during the summer months, when they can be seen at the surface in large numbers around the islands of Coll, Tiree, Canna and Hyskeir. And we're particularly intrigued to see where they go during the winter."

Having done their work, the tags will detach from the sharks after several months and float to the surface. The research team are appealing to anyone who finds a tag around the shores of the UK to get in touch.

Dr Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute explained: "If the tags are retrieved then we can gather much more detailed data on the movements of the sharks. So if you find one washed up along the coast, please pick it up and contact the SNH office in Oban on 0300 244 9360, or email baskingsharks@snh.gov.uk There is a reward available for each tag returned as the data they contain is valuable to the project."

Suzanne added: "The information gathered from this research will help help Government and others plan for the future use of our seas, balancing environmental concerns with industry and recreation."

Basking sharks can grow up to 11m in length and seven tonnes in weight but they feed entirely on plankton, tiny animals that drift through the water.

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