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Richard Peirce


Richard Peirce

One of my pet hates is the use of the word, 'expert'. Richard Peirce shark expert. What a load of nonsense. There are probably over five hundred shark species in our oceans, and if I was placed alone in a room and left undisturbed for twenty four hours I suspect I could only write down the names of between a quarter and half of them (and some I'd misspell!)

Reproduction, life history, diet, morphology, range, distribution, status, etc. etc. How can anyone be an expert in all these aspects of over five hundred different animals? Some scientists and researchers may come close, but then there's all the aspects of sharks interacting with humans angling, eco-tourism, danger factors, sharks through history expert in all of the aforementioned, it's a bit of a stretch isn't it? But 'shark expert' implies detailed knowledge and expertise across the board. So in future, I want to be titled 'Richard Peirce, who knows a little of some aspects of some sharks in general and broad terms, but is trying all the time to learn more'. Perhaps not. I'll settle for 'Expert with limitations', that's better.
The Underwater Channel
I received an e-mail from Monty Halls in late May saying that he had recently been in a situation in which he had been circled in an apparently threatening manner by three Basking sharks. Interesting, the exact same thing happened to me last year in June.

I don't know how many hours I have spent in the water with basking sharks in the past fifteen years, but I can say with some confidence that it's more than a hundred. I have rarely felt threatened, but a dive last June was one of those rare occasions. I was about four miles off Newquay and saw at least thirty sharks on the surface, feeding in small groups. The sharks were breaching regularly, and females made up the majority of the group.
There were six of us swimming and free-diving with the sharks when they came near our boat. The humans were well behaved. There was no chasing of, or swimming at, the sharks and the smallest shark I saw was about four metres long.

At the end of our first swim, three sharks appeared below me at the edge of my visibility at a depth of six to eight metres. They circled underneath me slowly rising in the water, getting closer all the time. There was clearly a reason for this manoeuvre. The swimming became faster and more purposeful and I began to feel threatened. I left the water but was back in soon afterwards, and there was no repetition of the sharks' earlier behaviour. They swam by with mouths open, filter-feeding as they went.

Ken Watterson and Colin Speedie are both friends of mine and have forgotten more about basking sharks than most people will ever know. Neither were surprised by my story and indeed Ken told me he had experienced the same behaviour and had also found it threatening.

I don't believe this story should be a reason for divers not to swim with basking sharks; but remember they can weigh the same as a single-decker bus, and are much bigger and stronger than us humans, so treat them with respect and caution.

This summer I'll be continuing my quest to film and photograph blues, porbeagles, soupfins, spurdogs, threshers, and smallspotted catsharks in UK waters. I'll let you know how I get on. I'll be presenting my new film 'Shark Attack Britain' at the Birmingham Dive Show so come along and have a chat about shark attacks in our waters, and see excerpts from the film.

Richard Peirce films and books can be bought online through the SCS Shark Shop.
Maldives Diving Adventure

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