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Could There be Great White Sharks in British Waters?

Updated on August 9, 2019
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Asp52 has a keen interest in all things British and has a particular affinity for great white sharks. Asp52 is well read in this subject.

The Marine Apex Predator.

The great white shark is not recognized as a native species to the British Isles and there has been no official record of this magnificent fish ever inhabiting the waters around the coast. But, there have been a number of reported sightings of a mysterious creature around the the western coast of the UK and Ireland. These alleged sightings are often thought to be erroneous as a great white shark can easily be misidentified in these waters. A sighting can easily be explained as being a member of the same family, fish such as the porbeagle shark and the mako are closely related, which means they will share some characteristics.

The great white shark is an apex predator which can be found in numerous locations throughout the world. It has long held the title of "Man Eater" even though statistically such deaths are rare and much of its notoriety stems from horror films and freak attacks when humans encroach in their environment.

The great white shark primarily 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 their bodies when they venture into colder climates.

A Great White in Warmer Seas.

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

How Close do They Come to the British Isles?

The closest a great white shark has ever been officially recorded in relation to the British Isles is at La Rochelle, in France. A great white shark was spotted in 1821 and more recently in the 1970's, a female was caught in the nets of local fishermen. La Rochelle rests on France's western coast and is in the very picturesque Bay of Biscay. This means that the historic port is less than 300 miles from the English coastline.

The great white shark was once fairly common in the Mediterranean Sea, but over the years its numbers appear to have steadily declined. The species is generally sighted in the eastern edges of the Mediterranean Sea as it is believed their are spawning grounds near the Islands of Greece. Over the years, the great white has come into contact with humans along most of the Mediterranean's 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 believing that the fin belongs to a great white shark. A number of these sightings cannot be dismissed and the amount of water surrounding the British Isles is huge. The great white can travel long distances and scientific tags have recorded journeys in excess of 7,000 miles.

Where There is Prey, There will be Hunters.

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

Could Great Whites Thrive in British Waters?

Around the British Isles, there would be an abundance of prey for a great white to feed on. There is a wide variety of large fish, whales and calorie-packed seals. There are several locations across the British Isles that have populations of both grey and common seals. The great white could also feed on the many sharks and rays that are already native to the waters around the British Isles. Failing that; there are also 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, especially 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 Sea 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, it can regulate its own internal temperature to survive in colder conditions for a short period of time. The table below shows the average water temperature of the sea surrounding 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

Evidence or not?

Great White Sharks in British Waters?

Over the last three decades,there have been a number of media reports reporting that great white sharks have been spotted in the south-west of the United Kingdom. Many experts believe that there is a chance that great whites do visit the territorial waters of the area. If they do, it is possible that it is juvenile great white sharks which could be following the schools of Mackerel as they follow their natural journey around the Atlantic Ocean.

Many of the reports of large sharks have come from the Cornish waters 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 predators would be the proverbial "finding a needle in a haystack".

That said, there have been a few occasions were the evidence has looked positive and entirely credible for the argument that great whites do visit or even inhabit the waters of the British Isle. The above YouTube video describes what happened along the Scottish coastline, which is a couple of degrees colder on average than the Cornish coast.

Great White Shark Distribution.

The common locations where you would expect to see Great White Sharks.
The common locations where you would expect to see Great White Sharks. | Source

Could Great White Sharks be Here?

There are many who believe that great white sharks are present in the British Isles and they believe that the sharks will soon 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 stable great white population. The real question we must ask is, Why are they not more widespread around the area? The temperature of the water seems to be the only real reason why they are already here in recognized numbers.

Looking at the evidence, I would be inclined to agree that great white sharks do visit the waters of the British Isles but I do not believe that they are native or resident to the area. I would agree with the idea that they spawn in the Mediterranean and the juvenile great white sharks 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 great whites are ever going to match the size of the more fearsome looking sharks of South Africa or Australia. The European great white sharks have a smaller population than the rest of the world due to over fishing. I will not be thinking about the chances of running into this apex predator, the next time I paddle in the sea that surrounds the British coast.

Quick Facts about Great White Sharks.

  • Great White Sharks can live for over 30 years.
  • Larger Great Whites can reach over 20 ft in length.
  • Female Great White Sharks take 12 years to reach sexual maturity.
  • Great White Sharks rely on ambush strategies when hunting larger mammals.
  • Sharks do not possess bones, instead they are supported by cartilage.
  • Great White Sharks are cannibalistic and will eat their own young.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Andrew Stewart


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