Amateur anglers catch Britain’s biggest shark (and then release it)

An enormous shark has been reeled in by a group of men fishing from boat just off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England. The whopping thresher shark, estimated to weigh 167kg (368lb), was measured by the men, who then released it back into the sea to save its life, spurning the opportunity to net a new record but earning themselves considerable kudos from conservationists.

‘I was jumping up and down like a little school girl,’ admitted Nick Lane, one of the fishermen involved in the hour-long battle to bring the thresher into the boat. ‘All hell broke loose,’ he said, describing the moment the shark seized the bait to the BBC. ‘Suddenly the rods took off, they were absolutely screaming.’

Lane has submitted a record application after the Shark Trust calculated the shark’s weight, based on its dimensions and photos. The largest shark previously caught on a rod in British waters was also a thresher, landed off Portsmouth in 1982, which weighing in at 147kg.

Although Lane’s fish was almost certainly bigger, it can’t be considered a new official record, because the rules of the British Record Fish Committee (BRFC) dictate that fish must be weighed on land, which effectively means killing them.

Talking on Radio 4, Mike Heylin, Chair of the BRFC, acknowledged that practise was out of date and totally ‘unacceptable’ in the case of a rare species like the thresher. Instead, he said, it will go on the ‘notable fish list’ until such time as the rules are changed.

John Richardson, Shark Trust conservation officer, was full of admiration for the anglers’ actions in releasing the shark back into the wild. ‘Here in the northeast Atlantic, threshers are listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species,’ he said. ‘The Shark Trust applauds the anglers for returning the shark alive to the water, especially as it may well have been a potential record.’

Thresher sharks have the most dangerous tails in the ocean.
Thresher sharks have the most dangerous tails in the ocean.

Thresher sharks are instantly recognisable by their extended tail (caudal fin), which they use to whip and stun prey, including the occasional sea bird. They can grow to 30ft and beyond, and like great white sharks, possess the ability to keep themselves warm in cold waters, such as the sea around Britain.

The largest thresher shark ever caught in UK waters was hauled in by a fishing boat in 2007, after becoming trapped in nets. Measuring 32ft (including its tail) it weighed 510kg (1,250lb).

Threshers are one of the most widely distributed sharks in the world, but their overall numbers are low because they have been intensely fished. They’re not considered dangerous to humans, although you wouldn’t want a slap from their tail.

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Predators of a Different Kind—In the World of the Unknown Sharks
Thresher sharks stun their prey by whipping them with their wicked tails, but they’re not the only unorthodox killers out there, as this documentary reveals. Stare into the giant gaping maw of the basking shark as it sucks up prey like a vacuum cleaner, while down below, ingeniously camouflaged carpet sharks patiently wait for unfortunate victims to wander by.

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