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Could there be Great White Sharks around the British Isles?

Updated on November 2, 2016

Apex Predator

The Great White Shark is not recognized as a native species in the British Isles and there has been no official record of the magnificent fish ever been present in the waters around the coastline. There have been a number of reported sightings of the creature around the the Western coast's of the UK and Ireland, but they are often thought to be misidentified and can be explained as been a member of the same family such as the Porbeagle Shark.

The Great White Shark is an apex predator which is found in numerous locations throughout the planet and has long held the title of " Man eater ". The Great White Shark preys upon other fish and Sea mammals such as Seals that live along the coastlines. The rich blubber of these animals allows the Sharks to grow to huge lengths and helps to insulate the Sharks bodies when they venture into colder climates.

The Great White Shark.
The Great White Shark. | Source

How close do they come to the British Isles?

The nearest a Great White Shark has ever been sighted to the British Isles is at La Rochelle in France, a Great White Shark was spotted in 1821 and in the 1970s a female was caught in the nets of local fishermen. La Rochelle lays on France's West coast and is in the very picturesque Bay of Biscay, this leaves the Port less than 300 miles from the English coast. The Great White Shark was once fairly common in the Mediterranean Sea, but over the years it's numbers have steadily declined. The species is generally sighted in the Eastern Mediterranean and over the years has come into contact with humans along the coastline.

There have been a number of reports of Great White sightings in British waters by the general public, although the majority of these sightings can be attributed to people seeing a Dorsal fin and immediately saying the fin belongs to a Great White Shark. There are of course a number of these sightings that cannot be dismissed and the amount of ocean surrounding the British Isles is immense. The Great White can travel long distances and scientific tags have recorded journeys in excess of 7,000 miles!

Seal's are always on the Great White Shark's menu!
Seal's are always on the Great White Shark's menu! | Source

Could Great Whites thrive in British Waters?

The Great White Shark would be able to feed on a wide variety of fish and sea mammals such as Seals. There are several locations across the British Isles that have populations of Grey and Common Seals. The Great White could also feed on the many Sharks and Rays already native to the waters around the British Isles, failing that; there are many types of Dolphin that can be found throughout the North Sea, English Channel and Irish Sea.

The Sharks will often prey on fish such as Sardines and Mackerel when they are in their juvenile stage of development. The coast of Cornwall is home to large numbers of these tasty and oily fish, so a juvenile Great White Shark could happily patrol the south west tip of England and then head into the Mediterranean or west into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Great White Shark is quite comfortable in water temperatures between 12°C and 24°C, but due to its efficient design can regulate its own internal temperature to survive in colder conditions for a short period of time. The table below shows that the average water temperature of the sea around the British Isles.

Sea Temperatures around British Isles

Lowest Temperature
Highest Temperature
North Sea
6 °C
17 °C
English Channel
5 °C
15 °C
Irish Sea
7 °C
15 °C
North Eastern Atlantic
0 °C
20 °C

Great White Sharks in British Waters?

Over the last 30 years we have seen a number of media reports of Great White Sharks spotted in the South West of the United Kingdom and many experts believe that there is a chance the Sharks do visit the territorial waters of the area. If they do it is possible that it is a juvenile Great White which could be following the schools of Mackerel as they follow their natural journey around the Atlantic Ocean.

Many of the reports of large Shark's have come from the Cornish water's and given the number of fisherman who operate out of the rural fishing ports it would not be surprising if they were the first to notice a new predator in their waters. For the size of a Great White Shark and the expanse of water around the Cornish Coast, finding one of these Apex Predator's would be the proverbial " Needle in the Haystack".

That said there has been a few occasions were the evidence has looked positive and credible for the argument that Great White's do visit or even inhabit the water's of the British Isle's. The YouTube video describes what happened along the Scottish coastline, which is a couple of degree's colder on average than the Cornish coastline.

Great White Shark distribution

The common locations of Great White Sharks.
The common locations of Great White Sharks. | Source

Do you believe that Great White's are present in the British Isle's?

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Quick facts about the Great White Shark.

  • Great White Shark's can live past the age of 30.
  • The larger Great White Shark's reach over 20 feet in length.
  • Female Sharks take 12 years to sexually mature.
  • Great White's rely on the element of surprise when hunting Mammal's.
  • Shark's do not have Bone's they have cartilage instead.
  • The Great White will eat other Sharks including it's own youngsters.

Could Great White Sharks be here?

There are many who believe that Great White's are present in the British Isles and they believe that the Sharks will become resident, if the Sea temperature continues to rise with Global warning. The water around the United Kingdom and Ireland is ideal for sustaining a Great White population, and the real question is why are they now more widespread around the area. The temperature of the water seems to be the only real reason they are not endemic in the area.

Looking at the evidence I would be inclined to agree, that Great White Shark's do visit the water's of the British Isles but are not tied to the area. I would agree with the idea that they spawn in the Mediterranean and the juvenile Great White Shark's move into the Atlantic Ocean to feed on migrating fish species. They may follow the fish into the waters around Britain and feed on the occasional seal before moving into deeper water or heading to the American coastline. The Great White Shark never stops swimming and research has shown that the Shark tends to have a routine that is hard to understand and track.

I don't believe that they are ever going to be the size of the more fearsome looking Sharks of South Africa or Australia. The European Great White Shark's will have a smaller population than the rest of the world due to over fishing. I for one will not be thinking about the chances of running into the apex predator the next time I paddle on the English coastline.


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful analysis of the great white's habits.

    • Asp52 profile image

      Asp52 4 years ago from England

      Yes, there are a few Great Whites in the Mediterranean. The Ancient Greeks wrote about them and they described their ability to eat a man. I think there have been 10 recorded fatal attacks in Greek waters but I am not sure if there have been any recently!

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Are there any white sharks in the Mediterranean?? According to Wikipedia's map you featured yes!