Shark Sightings off St Ives

Great White Shark - St Ives
Great White Shark - St Ives
Great White Shark

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.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Oceanic Whitetip Shark

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!

Old Photos of St Ives

Gutting fish, 1890

During the 19th century St Ives was one of the biggest pilchard ports in Britain with fish being exported all over Europe from here. Life was centred around the harbour as it was 100s of years before, and to some extent still is. Fishing was dangerous work and many lives were lost at sea yet despite this poverty was rife in the warren of streets behind that run from the harbour. It wasn’t just fishermen who risked their lives at sea; over the years many ships have run aground in and around St Ives causing loss of life to both mariners and lifeboat men.