When we talk about the effects of climate change, there’s one thing we often overlook: the prospect of sharks where sharks have never been before.
We’ve already felt the impact of what could end up being one of the hottest summers on record, not to mention one of the driest, and we’ve already had to contend with questions about how far away we are from the apocalypse.
Sharks, though? We never really gave that much thought, but it makes sense. Rising sea temperatures mean the warm water they’re used to and the water around the UK coastline could soon be one and the same.
A new study, commissioned by Nat Geo WILD, has taken a look at some of the sharks which could well be seen off the coast of the UK in the not-too-distant future. That means in your lifetime.
This means the current 40-odd shark species we have right now, such as Basking Sharks (which make up the majority of UK shark sightings) and Thresher Sharks, could find themselves with plenty of company by 2050 - maybe even Great Whites.
“It’s likely we will be seeing more sharks spread from warmer regions such as the Mediterranean Sea towards our waters in the UK over the next 30 years,” says Dr Ken Collins, former administrator of the UK Shark Tagging Programme and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton.
“These include the likes of Blacktips, Sand tigers and Hammerheads, which are currently found swimming off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.
“There is considerable debate as to whether we have Great White Sharks in UK waters. I see no reason why not – they live in colder waters off South Africa and have a favourite food source, seals along the Cornish coast. The only argument against there being Great White Sharks in our waters is that numbers worldwide are declining so the chances of seeing one around the UK fall year by year.”
The areas of the UK where you’re most likely to see sharks are predominantly on or near the south coast, with Cornwall home to as many as 20 different species and the Scilly Isles and Devon running it close.
However, certain species of sharks have also been spotted off the Welsh coast, the Isle of Man, and even parts of Scotland such as Argyllshire and Invernessshire.
None are quite as daunting as the Great Hammerhead, which is the largest shark potentially destined for UK waters. The predator, which can grow up to 20ft in length, is currently found in warmer regions including the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.
Other sharks which could head north within the next 30 years include:
Responsible for 16% of attacks in Florida, and also responsible for attacks on humans in the Caribbean and off the coast of South Africa
Up to 10ft long, but unlikely to attack humans unless provoked, this shark is common to the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.
Named in relation with an attack on tourists off the coast of Egypt in 2010, resulting in one death. This shark can be dangerous to humans, according to experts, but is more commonly found far from the shore in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Only one Oceanic Whitetip has ever been spotted in northern Europe, and none in the UK.
Other named species which could arrive in the UK by 2050 are as follows:
Bigeye Thresher (Alopias superciliosus)
Longfin Mako (Isurus paucus)
Bronze Whaler or Copper shark (Carcharhinus brachyurus)
Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
Dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus)
Goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni)
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(Images: Nat Geo WILD/Getty)