This may get a bit repetitive to watch - it’s basically a selection of my best basking shark footage, shot in the waters of Sennen Cove in Cornwall, from the 31st July to 2nd, August 2007. I say it may be repetitive to watch as it’s basically just shots of basking sharks swimming with their mouths open, but, well, that’s mostly what basking sharks do (the clue is in the name). I’m sure they do more interesting things from time to time, but I’m yet to see any concrete evidence of that!
This was shot in my third year trying to film basking sharks - the first two years being unsuccessful attempts in Scotland, around the Isle of Mull and Coll. In year three I got lucky, and had an incredibly rewarding experience diving with such rare and elusive animals off the coast of my home country, whereas I'm usually acquainted with having such experiences off of farther flung shores.
I had been on stand-by for a couple of weeks to go and film the sharks. One morning I got the message I’d been waiting for; “they’ve arrived” was all it said. The message had come from a fellow cameraman I was working with who has an extensive network of contacts up and down the Cornish coast. The contacts include National Trust volunteers, bird-watchers, and local boat skippers. I packed and headed down to the Cornwall as soon as I could after received the call, and on each of the subsequent three days we had really good action – the best day being 1st August.
On day one, after sighting some sharks from near-by cliffs, we launched our boat - a tiny little rubber duck (with a 2.5 horsepower outboard) that the camera would just about fit into. It wasn’t the most comfortable or luxurious dive boat I’ve ever been in, but it did the trick - we had to travel less than a kilometer to reach the sharks we’d spotted earlier.
The first couple of sharks we jumped in with were quite skittish, diving as soon as they caught sight of me in the water, or even before I was able to get in the water. After quite a few unsuccessful jumps, we decided to wait a while to see if anything more showed.
At around three in the afternoon, we caught sight of a couple of sharks a few hundred meters away from us, and we decided to try again. As we got closer to the sharks we’d initially spotted, we started seeing more and more. Incredibly, by the time we were close to them we’d counted over thirty sharks – they were easy to count as the water was glassy flat and underwater visibility was excellent (for Cornwall).
The sharks were ‘working’ a patch of plankton-dense water, which was probably around the size of a basketball court. So dense was the plankton (03:33) that I could feel it on my face as I swam through the water and it often collected on the camera dome - I had to wave it off to stop it obscuring the image.
The sharks would crisscross this dense patch (01:00), oftentimes exhibiting the strange behavior where they would follow each other in pairs or in threes, it seemed to me as if they were slipstreaming other. Unlike earlier in the day when the sharks had not tolerated my presence in the water, now they were nonplussed by my presence, and were completely ignoring me.
When the sharks are ‘chomping’ they are collecting the plankton that has collected onto their gill-rakers into a bolus (a ball), which they then swallow.
One interesting thing that happened when were in the water with them occurred when one of the sharks came very close to the other cameraman I was with – so much so that his fin glanced the flank of one of the sharks (02:05) – the shark reacted by circling underneath us with it’s pectoral fins in a downward position (a typical warning sign / sign of aggression for some species of shark). Even through basking sharks are only filter feeders, this was still quite an unnerving sight!
This footage has been used in a few different productions, including the feature film ‘Turtle; The incredible Journey’.
All shot on Sony F-900R in Amphibcam housing. Frame rate 59.94i.
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