After seeing this post I can't help wondering if it is referring to me. I run sea safari trips from Penzance and on Bank Holiday Monday just after 12 we did narrowly miss a basking shark out by the Runnel Stone. We were returning to Penzance and cruising at about 19-20 knots. The basking shark broke the surface just in front of us and off our starboard side. We passed by the shark and we definitely did not hit it as at the very least there would have been a bang and the boat would have juddered. Also we (myself and passengers on board) witnessed the shark pass by us. As soon as I saw the shark I throttled back and we drifted to a stop. We then proceeded to look around to check the shark had not suffered from our close encounter and saw it feeding across where our wake had been. We stayed long enough to visually check the shark and record its location and size before moving on as to stay longer with the shark after passing so close would potentially impact upon its behaviour.
As anyone with any knowledge about these animals knows, as often as basking sharks are on the surface they are equally below the surface and on many occassions just below it. I would never travel through an area at speed if I knew there were sharks there, as the danger to the animal and the passengers/crew on the boat is unacceptable. When we are around sharks we follow wildlife watching guidelines very closely and explain to our passengers why we are doing what we are doing and how we are aiming to minimise our impact upon the animals we are observing.
There have been regular sightings of basking sharks all along the coast from Cudden Point all the way around to Pendeen watch and beyond in a variety of locations. The sharks will follow wherever the tide and wind takes the plankton. In fact this year's South West sightings exend from Dorset round to Hartland Point.
The shark mentioned in the news article with the damaged fin was actually reported by me and the researcher was on our boat taking pictures for photo identification. The whole top half of its dorsal fin has been cut off and there is also an obvious propellor cut in its tail fin. With regards to propellor injuries, that would not be possible with our boat as we have a water jet unit. However this would not change the results of a collision at 20 knots. In fact the Scillonian Ferry hit a shark last year and reports say the whole ship shuddered. Even with their high vantage point they were unable to see the shark.
An incident like this makes you think of a number of things:
1) The consequences of a collision with an animal like a basking shark both for the animal, the passengers and the crew.
2) Are there any times I have passed over something under the surface of the water without seeing it?
3) How to avoid an incident like this in the future.
4) From a high observation points like Gwennap, some sort of flag system to indicate animals in the area would be a useful warning to boat drivers a bit like the dive flag system
I don't even know that the original post was referring to this incident as there are several other RIBs in the area, especially on the Bank Holiday weekend, but I thought I would share my own experience of it from a boat's perspective. Gwennap Head is very high up, and as other posters have said, the view from sea level is much more limited particularly if there is chop on the water. Surely no one would ever dream of deliberately running a over basking shark and there is world of difference between reckless endangerment and an accidental near-miss with the consequent soul-searching. (With regards to the comment about "cowboy operators", we have been praised by the MCA for the way we prepare and look after our passengers, and also have been used by many marine charities and research groups in the past and have future work with them.)