The Inner Hebrides has become a known hotspot for our ocean’s second largest fish, the Basking Shark. However, this summer has seen unseasonal storms and gales thus driving Scotland’s Basking Sharks under the waves, dramatically reducing the number of sightings by half compared to figures recorded in 2016. Which makes our bank holiday adventure to the Isle of Coll even more extraordinary!
The waters around the Inner Hebrides are teeming with marine wildlife, which is coupled with the stunning scenery of Argyll, volcanic wonders such as Fingal’s Cave and historic castles dotted amongst the landscape. Visitors to these waters often see whales, dolphins, seals, puffins and many other seabirds, and sometimes even Golden Eagles. From May to September Basking Sharks migrate to the west coast of Scotland following the explosive plankton bloom which they feed on daily.
Even though Basking Sharks can grow to be eight metres in length there is no need to panic when you see that fin swim towards you, as these gentle giants don’t have any teeth, they just feed on the abundant plankton in the water. Interestingly though, Basking Sharks have an unusual classification and are part of the Order Lamniformes, which includes Great White Sharks. When you’re snorkelling with Basking Sharks and their mouths are closed or closing to swallow food, their outline looks very similar to a Great White Shark as they share a similar fin and body type – the experience can be surreal!
Our three-day adventure begun with a very early start to catch the 6am ferry, travelling 2.5 hours north-west from Oban on the Scottish mainland, through the sound of Mull to the beautiful Isle of Coll. What started as a misty morning quietly brighten to be one of the sunniest days the Basking Shark Scotland team had had in months. After an informative briefing, we were kitted with full wetsuits, fins and snorkels and in no time we were out on the waters in search of wildlife. That day the waters were so still, almost mirror like, with clear lines of plankton visible on the surface, which isn’t often seen with the usual crashing waves. As we motored down the coast of Coll we were quick to spot porpoises breaching above the waves, seals popping their heads above the surface, and the welcomed sight of two Basking Sharks within the first half an hour. Considering the fact they are notoriously difficult to find, the flat, calm seas were to favour us, making fin sightings a wee bit easier…
After a splash around in the crystal clear, turquoise waters near the shore, briefly accompanied by a few seals, we tested our equipment before heading out in search of more Basking Sharks. Once we’d found a shark our skipper carefully got ahead of it, watching on to see if it changed it’s path. Four at a time, along with our guide, the group plopped into the water, quickly gathering together to patiently wait for the Basking Sharks to pass us. As with our seal snorkelling adventure in the Isles of Scilly, the best way to encounter the sharks is to remain slam and still in the water, not swimming directly at them as they will simply change their route and avoid you all together. On the surface Basking Sharks don’t appear to travel fast, but when you are in the water with them you quickly realise it’s an altogether different story!
An encounter with a Basking Shark can never be guaranteed, but that weekend we were incredibly lucky. The sunshine made the waters beneath us sparkle, and we had numerous opportunities to slip into the waters and watch on as these gentle and awe-inspiring creatures casually swam by, wide mouthed and looking almost pre-historic.
Watch the Video of our Basking Shark encounter!