Cornwall is home to a surprising variety of sharks. The most commonly sighted are Basking Sharks, which, despite their size and their classic Jaws-style dorsal fin, are completely harmless, feeding on plankton, a kind of algae that lives in sea water.
Not all Cornish sharks are harmless. The Blue Shark, Porbeagle, Thresher Shark and Mako (Maori for man-eating) Shark are all capable of inflicting injury on people, although as yet no shark attacks have ever been reported in the UK. This does not prevent sporadic media feeding-frenzies, in which St Ives often seems to be centre stage.
In 2007 the tabloids decided that a Great White Shark was hunting off the Cornish coast, following a prank by a local bouncer, who sent footage filmed off the coast of Cape Town to the local newspaper.
Media interest was further fuelled in 2009 when a twelve foot Thresher Shark was spotted by surfers and later washed up dead on the beach at Hayle.
The most recent uproar happened in 2011 when a sixty-year-old Mackerel fisherman claimed that a two-meter Oceanic Whitetip Shark ‘zig-zagged’ towards his boat and ‘circled it a few times’ before ‘slamming into it’. He reported the sighting to the harbourmaster at St Ives. Ten minutes later two other fishermen reported a similar experience, one of them claiming to be ‘100% certain’ that what he had seen was an Oceanic Whitetip.
Although the Shark Trust said that the chances of the animal actually being a Whitetip were extremely small – these sharks are usually found in deeper waters much further south – the media took up the story with relish, causing mass hysteria when a large Basking Shark was spotted in the harbour in the same week!