Colin Speedie’s new book A Sea Monster’s Tale: In Search of the Basking Shark takes us from swashbuckling hunts of giant sharks by reckless individuals with makeshift harpoons, through an age of mass slaughter, to the author’s personal shark-tracking adventures.
At up to eleven metres in length and seven tonnes in weight, this plankton-feeding fish is one of the largest in the world.
However, these sharks are now the prey of a new hunter with improved equipment and experience.
Historically, basking sharks were a familiar sight off the coast of Scotland being immortalised in Norman MacCaig’s poem. In an 18th century world without electricity, they became the focus of active hunting for their huge livers containing large amounts of valuable oil, primarily used in lamps.
From the 1970s onwards, a new generation took to the seas, this time with conservation in mind to identify where the shark might still be found in the waters around the British Isles, employing new technologies to solve long-standing mysteries about the behaviour of this elusive creature. Using the best of both old and new research techniques, the case was built to justify the species becoming one of the most protected sharks in the oceans.
Today, the basking shark is a much-loved cornerstone of our natural heritage. There are positive signs that the population has stabilised and may even be slowly recovering from the damage of the past, proving that timely conservation measures can be effective.Join us on a journey amidst wild seas, places, people and conservation history in the battle to protect this iconic creature – a true sea monster’s tale.
A Sea Monster’s Tale: In Search of the Basking Shark, by Colin Speedie, £17.95 from Wild Nature Press.
Scottish Field rating: ****