Jaws was on telly last night. Yes I watched it. It’s probably only about the fortieth time I’ve seen it this year. ITV1 is running its Jaws Season this week to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of this iconic movie’s general release in the United States (though its film premiere there was actually 20.06.75). By sheer coincidence a holidaymaker in Cornwall has said he may have filmed what could be the first ever sighting of a great white shark in United Kingdom waters. People claim great whites were also seen off Devon and Cornwall in 1999 and 2003, but proof was sadly lacking. However, Nick Fletcher from Rotherham says he has filmed a twelve foot shark hunting dolphins off the coast at St Ives.
It could be a porbeagle or a mako; smaller relatives of the white shark that are very common in waters around the British Isles. On the other hand it could be a juvenile white (it wouldn’t be an adult at this length). Two of Britain’s leading shark experts, Richard Pierce and Oliver Crimmen, have said they cannot rule out the possibility of the sighting being of a great white. If true, it’s fantastic news.
Then along comes officialdom to spoil the party. Marc Thomas, of the Falmouth Coastguard, has dismissed the sighting as ‘rubbish’ and intimated that those who keep an open mind on the subject are ‘scaremongering’. How would he know what species it is? Lifeguards are expert in saving people’s lives, not in elasmobranchology. Thomas doesn’t appear to be enamoured with the news. Like Mayor Larry Vaughn in Jaws, he seems more concerned with ensuring the tourist season doesn’t falter on the back of this potential breakthrough.
Mr Thomas this isn’t 1975!! People across the western world have a much more sophisticated appreciation of the beauty of sharks in this day and age. If anything, verification of the arrival of great white sharks in UK waters could well be a big pull for tourists. Countries from the USA to South Africa to Australia have much healthier coastal tourist economies than we do, even though white sharks are relatively common in all three countries (there have been 19 fatal shark attacks in Australia alone since 1990; there has NEVER been a fatal attack committed by a shark in British waters). Perhaps the Larry Vaughns of Cornwall should look at this as a new phenomenon, not as a mis-perceived threat to the tourist industry.
‘What did you say the name of this shark is?’
‘It’s a Carcharodon carcharias. It’s a great white.’
‘But you don’t have the tooth.’