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A Sea Monster's Tale


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Table of Contents

Foreword by Sarah Fowler 5Introduction 7The Early History 13Anthony Watkins, the Pioneer in Scotland 44The Post-War Hunt 71The Flag Drops 84Reality Bites 98In Action at Last 107The 1947 Season 128The Independent Operators 142The Hunt Beyond Scotland 157We Set Sail 168The Battle Begins 182The Early Surveys 197Seeking Answers About a Sea Monster 220The Best of Years: 2005-2006 228The End of the Line 238Where Do We Go From Here? 254Sources 267Acknowledgements 282Index 284

About the Author

Colin Speedie has the sea in his blood. Born in Aberdeen within sight of the North Sea, he began his nautical apprenticeship as a child in Devon, sailing small boats around the local coastline. As time went by, a love of exploration led him to extend his horizons beyond the English Channel, altering course northwards through the Irish Sea to the wild waters of the Western Isles of Scotland. A professional yacht skipper for much of his life, he took a circuitous route to marine conservation, skippering scientific research vessels on projects studying whales, dolphins, sharks, seabirds and turtles. He is best known for his pioneering work spearheading one of Britain's longest running boat-based citizen science studies on the whereabouts of the Basking Shark through Britain's western seaboard. His findings have enabled government agencies, university teams and fellow sea-users to better understand this enigmatic creature. With sailing, wilderness, history, conservation and writing as his life's callings, Colin's destiny has become entwined with the fate of the Basking Shark. This book, in which he compellingly documents our changing attitudes to the shark through true tales of adventure and drama on the high seas, is a tribute to the many people who have contributed to its protection. Their work can be deemed one of conservation's success stories. Colin and his wife Louise divide their time between their home in Falmouth, Cornwall, and sailing the world aboard their yacht Pelerin - French for `Basking Shark'.


The basking shark is a wonderous beast on which is bestowed a kind of eerie benevolence by virtue of its planktonic diet, it gawps, rather than bites. Unlike its benthic Greenland brethren, it swirls just below the surface of the northern waters with its mouth wide open, detecting food, mindful of nothing but food. At least that's how I have thought of it, until Colin Speedie's book revealed its strange rituals: the huge animals swimming nose-to-tail in a circle as if in mythological reflection of their other common name, the sunfish. Speedie's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, as he lovingly details its natural history.....Yet as Speedie's book demonstrates in its visceral early chapters, this shark's apparent harmlessness was rewarded by humans determined to relieve it of its oil-rich liver converting the sun fish's darkness into our artifical light as it burned in lamps.....In his later chapters, Speedie's own hunts, in the form of ambitious coast-to-coast surveys, supply vital scientific data rather than derring-do.....Ancient and huge it may be, but the basking sharks future depends on a new kind of shark fever - our rediscovered love for these sandpaper-skinned behemouths. - Philip Hoare in The Guardian --- Yes, there are sea monsters. But they are peaceful monsters-the best kind. Colin Speedie has written a fine book about a little-known monster who is still on Earth with us. I hope there will always be basking sharks, and if there are we will owe a note of thanks to this lovely, interesting, thoughtfully illustrated book. - Carl Safina --- To describe the book as a `history' is too simplistic. It's far more than that, perhaps `journey' is better. A journey that takes in the brutal mechanics and financial rewards of a fishery that drove this wonderful creature to near extinction and sees the slow realisation of the hunters' impact on basking shark numbers, before there is an eventual move towards understanding, conservation and protection. As a pioneering basking shark conservationist, Speedie's knowledge of the animal is considerable, but it is also his depth of research into the shark-fishing industry that is so commendable. While the prose is authoritative and well written, it's far from being a dusty academic journal. Instead, it takes a conversational tone - marrying scientific data with casual reminiscences is no mean feat, but Speedie carries it off. Unless you are a basking shark fan, you're probably not going to read it, but if you are or pick it up on the off chance - this is a treat. - Paul Critcher in Geographical

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