The Guardian, Press Association
21st August 2015
Adventurer Ben Fogle has embarked on an expedition to hunt for great white sharks in UK waters, using the carcass of a 30ft whale as bait.
The investigation will reveal the hidden creatures lurking in British seas for an upcoming ITV documentary fronted by the presenter. It is believed to be the first whale-fall experiment to take place in the UK, recreating what happens when a whale drops to the bottom of the ocean once it dies.
The whale carcass, a female humpback weighing more than seven tons, will be dragged through the Celtic Deep, between Ireland and Wales, with cameras filming the response from marine life, including sharks.
The Shark Trust said its former chairman, Richard Peirce, had investigated more than 100 sightings of great whites in Britain, describing a “handful of the sightings” as “credible”.
The availability of seals as prey and habitat is considered well-suited to the species, but there is no evidence that they inhabit UK seas.
John Richardson, the charity’s conservation officer, said: “This is certainly an exciting project – possibly unprecedented in British waters – however the likelihood of encountering a white shark is incredibly low.”
He added: “Nevertheless a decomposing whale may prove impossible to ignore for a number of other magnificent oceanic sharks that are found in British waters, including the blue shark, porbeagle, shortfin mako, thresher – possibly even a Greenland shark.”
The whale was donated by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), which was unable to save it when it was found entangled near the village of Helmsdale in the north east of Scotland in June. It was transported to Wales, where it was frozen using four tonnes of liquid nitrogen, to preserve it ahead of the experiment.
Big Wave TV, the production company behind the project, has waited over two years to find a whale suitable for the experiment.
Dr Andrew Brownlow, director of SMASS, said the team had wanted a “Goldilocks whale” – big enough to be towed out to sea and attract wildlife, but small enough to fit into a shipping container – and described the experiment as an “astonishing logistical operation”.
He said: “I get some strange requests in my job, and this is well up there with them.
“But when an animal comes into the north east coast of Scotland it usually goes to landfill, and there is nothing more disheartening than to see these amazing creatures buried under tons of human refuse.
“It seems a little weird that we agreed to do this, but compared to just being binned along with the waste of the north east of Scotland, it’s actually brilliant.”
Brownlow said it would be “amazing” to see what Fogle and the team find, adding: “The whale is a huge ecological resource so as it begins to sink it generates its entire own ecology, because it is a food source for lots of lots of creatures.
“The deep ocean environment is pretty sterile. There aren’t a lot of nutrients, so putting something massive like that in, it’s a huge injection of food energy into the sea.”