By Mikey Jones
These fearless snorkelers were left JAWS-dropped after a huge dorsal fin appeared behind them – but all was not as it seemed.
Will Clark, from Somerset, was swimming in waters around the Inner Hebrides archipelago in Scotland last month when he snapped the perfectly-timed series of photographs.
But luckily for the divers, the animal which had come to investigate them was not a deadly great white shark but a much more harmless basking shark.
While basking sharks are the second biggest fish in the ocean – with only whale sharks bigger – the gentle giants survive on a human-free diet of plankton and small crustaceans.
Property company partner Will, 48, said: “I’m always astounded these encounters are possible in British waters.
“You have to be ever so stealthy and stay still when they can see you, otherwise they just swim down and disappear. If you’re really lucky, they turn around and swim past you again.
“Very rarely they even come and check you out from this close, as long as you stay calm and still.
“There’s no risk to humans as they only eat tiny animal plankton, which they catch by pushing water into their massive mouths and through specialised filters in their gills.
“My first thought on seeing a huge basking shark’s wide open mouth coming straight at me, appearing through very murky water, was ‘I am so pleased it doesn’t want to eat me’.”
It was the third year Will had taken his summer holidays on the islands, off the west coast of Scotland, to snorkel with the fascinating sea creatures.
The animals gather in significant numbers off Scotland at the height of summer, as conditions create an annual burst in numbers of their favourite food – small crustaceans called copeopods.
But he said researchers have increasingly been finding more plastic in the water – putting the lives of these incredible animals at risk.
Will, who has been taking underwater photographs for a decade, said: “The biggest basking sharks I’ve swum with were about eight metres long – about the same length as a London bus.
“The smallest was a youngster about the same size as me.
“Of course you can’t touch them, or anything stupid like that – wildlife encounters like these are all about respecting the animals.
“This year I swam with more basking sharks than on previous trips, so I had opportunities to try out some new ideas including getting my friends and guides in the frame rather than just the animals like I normally do.
“I wanted to not only show how exciting and awe-inspiring encounters with these gentle giants are, but also to help viewers gain perspective on just how enormous they are.
“Like all photographers, I love it when my images make an impact – whether through showing beauty, drama, or even just offering insights into how curious, magnificent and marvellous the natural world is.
“The crew I go on these trips with, Basking Shark Scotland, do a lot of scientific research including often taking samples of what’s in the water when they are near sharks.
“Unfortunately as well as what you would expect to find like plankton, algae and seaweed, they are increasingly finding tiny particles of plastic, which means the Basking sharks are inevitably eating this too.”