In the UK, we consider ourselves privileged to live far away from terrifying wildlife. Wolves went extinct in Britain by 1760. We occasionally hear that we have dangerous spiders living in Britain, but they don’t pose nearly as big a threat as they do in other countries.
And sharks? Not here, mate. They’re all in Australia and the Caribbean. Except for the 40-or-so species of sharks that inhabit or regularly visit UK waters, of course.
Before you cancel your trip to Cornwall (or Skeggie, if you’re from Leicester and just instinctively head for the nearest open water), relax. It’s similar to the spider situation, except with far fewer legs: our local sharks are mostly no threat to humans. And unless you live on a boat, we can guarantee you’ll never have to sweep them out of your house.
That said, we’ve had some interesting visitors in recent years. Below we list some sharks you might be lucky enough to spot in UK waters.
1. Basking Shark
Starting from the north and working down, basking sharks are regular visitors to the west coast of Scotland. Reaching up to 12m, these are the world’s second-largest fish — but like most ocean giants, they’re no threat to humans.
Instead, they feed on plankton — and a lot of it. These enormous creatures filter around 2m litres of water per hour, extracting the tiny organisms and using them for nutrition. It’s like nature’s protein shake and certainly helps them put on impressive growth.
You can join a tour to view these amazing animals from the west coast of Scotland. They visit mostly in the summer months, which luckily is also the perfect time to visit one of the UK’s most pristine and dazzling coastlines.
2. Greenland Shark
Okay, so this isn’t technically moving south — the Greenland shark, as you might have guessed, tends to enjoy the icy waters of the Arctic. However, people have reported sightings as far south as near the west coast of Ireland.
The Greenland shark may be the longest-lived vertebrae known to humanity. Some say these weird-looking, magnificent fish can live for over 400 years, possibly due to an incredibly slow metabolism. For context, William Shakespeare died in 1616. The Mayflower crossed the Atlantic in 1620. These sharks have seen a lot of life.
Panic! It’s a great white! Nope, it’s a bit too small. However, Porbeagles are known for their uncanny resemblance to cinema’s favourite fishy fiend. They only grow to less than half the size and commonly hang out in the Irish Sea. If you ever get the pleasure of making the ferry crossing, keep your eyes peeled for dorsal fins.
4. Shortfin Mako Shark
In the same region and with a similar profile, the Shortfin Mako has all the characteristics that make these amazing creatures such good villains. The black eyes. The listless mouth concealing rows of razor-sharp teeth. The sleekness and theincredible bursts of speed (up to 50mph). The ability to jump 20ft clear of the surface. The alarming proximity to the Bristol Channel.
Wait, what was that? Yep, these beautiful animals occupy the Irish Sea and the Atlantic. They measure up to 4m long and can weigh half a metric tonne. Sadly, they’re endangered, so if you see one, the responsible thing is to remove any objects that may be hard to digest.
The thresher shark has one of the most astonishing and gorgeous tails in the animal kingdom. This tail is truly magnificent and trails far behind the main body. They’re fatal beauties, mind. These sharks can stun prey with their tails in lightning-fast attacks.
Threshers are deep-sea lovers usually, so you will have a hard time spotting them around the UK. However, there have been reported sightings in the English Channel during the summer months.
6. Smooth Hammerhead
No, it’s not that guy at the bar who looks like a volcanic rock formation but has… you know, a weird kind of appeal. Some good chat. Rather, the smooth hammerhead shark is a distinguished and distinctive visitor to UK waters.
Measuring up to 4m in length, you’ll be lucky to see one of these on a boat trip, as they prefer deep water. However, they have popped up near the Cornish coast on rare occasions.
7. Blue Shark
Passersby have spotted the blue shark off the southern coast of England and around the Channel Islands from time to time. One can distinguish them by the gorgeous purplish-blue hue of their backs.
These fascinating animals have a silver underside and are one of the most streamlined, missile-like bodies of all sharks. Some have suggested that blue sharks can swim at up to 60mph, roughly the same speed as a cheetah runs.
Think of how fast you can move on land compared to in the water. Scary, huh? No need to worry: the cheetah would also catch you in mere seconds. Nowhere is safe.
8. Great White Shark
We saved the biggest and baddest for last. Great white sharks frequent the Atlantic waters near France, which isn’t too far away. Still, these creatures have never made it to the British coast as far as we know.
What you need to know about great white sharks is that they don’t want to eat you. Mostly because they probably don’t like the taste. Ever sat down to a delicious-looking meal, only to take a bite and find it tastes like feet? That’s what you are to a great white — a disappointment. A clammy Quiché Lorraine.
Conclusion: Sharks in UK Waters
There’s no good reason to worry about shark attacks in UK waters. Best to just enjoy these magnificent, ancient creatures from the rare photos and sightings we get of them: we know so little about them. If you see one, consider yourself blessed (as long as you’re on a boat).
However if you are camping near the coast why not try and spot one, even better if you are camping with the kids.
Just don’t expect to see any.
Hi, I am Amy I have two loves in my life camping and writing. When I am not writing for The Expert Camper, I am usually camping. Lake District is one of my favourite spots, but really anywhere in the UK under canvas I am happy.