'All sharks are a masterclass in design, but the blue shark is a work of art’: The wildlife with Monty Halls
23:24 GMT, 5 October 2012
23:24 GMT, 5 October 2012
There’s an annual pilgrimage I make. It’s fairly simple really, involving as it does picking up some pretty whiffy fish from a local market, packing it into the boat, and then motoring far offshore to drift across a wide horizon, leaving a rainbow trail of fish oil in my wake.
All I need to do is wait, and all that powers my progress are the elemental forces of the wind and tide.
It might take all day. It might take several days. But when I get lucky – and frequently I don’t – it’s always worth it.
Monty is hoping to get lucky and spot some sharks this week
This is a chance to pay homage to the most beautiful animal in the sea, a sapphire wraith that materialises off our coasts at the tail end of summer. It has crossed a vast ocean to meet us. Nature has equipped it to do so, for here is a Bedouin of the tides, perfectly designed to cruise the shallows as thousands of miles pass under its snow-white keel.
Using charts only it can understand, it harnesses the great currents created by the movement of the earth, subtly altering its direction and depth with a tail shaped like a dark scimitar.
Through day and night it draws ever closer to our ragged little island. With senses that are some of the most advanced in the animal kingdom, it detects the presence of fertile shallow waters, and for a few weeks it lurks offshore, an opportunistic hunter waiting in the shadows for its hapless prey.
And then it leaves, tracing the curve of the earth in an endless quest for food.
All sharks represent a masterclass in design, but the blue shark – oh, the blue shark is a work of art. It is as though the sea itself has taken shape, as though an eddy in a current has suddenly become flesh and gristle. Its back is not just blue, it is the deepest, darkest, purest azure you will ever see.
Imagine staring into tropical water as the sun dances around you – well, that is the colour of a blue shark. Its body is not just lithe, it represents such hydrodynamic perfection that it leaves no vapour trails of bubbles as it ghosts through the water. It is a spirit, a whisper of a predator, but for many of the fish it hunts it is the last thing they will ever see.
The blue shark is a work of art
And how have we chosen to respond to the presence of this animal Sadly, approximately 20 million are caught each year throughout the world, a great many of those as by-catch from commercial fishing. We relegate this creature to nothing more than a mistake, a waste of a hook on a glittering long-line to be hauled on board then thrown back over the side.
When they are caught deliberately by the shark fin trade, then the barbarity knows no bounds. Those elegant fins are hacked off as the animal still lives.
The body of the shark is then thrown back into the sea to spiral into the darkness, a wide-eyed and gasping comet ahead of a trailing cloud of its own blood.
Happily, the vast majority of UK fishermen will now tag and return the sharks, adding their own experience to that of the scientists, each fishing boat a research vessel in what is now a desperate quest for knowledge about a creature that inhabits the vast, echoing vaults of the open ocean.
And what of my own blue shark encounter Well, I waited and waited, but they didn’t come. There was no thrilling shadow under the boat and no dorsal fin glinting in the sun. They remain hidden for another year. After all, they’re in no hurry, it’s a route they’ve taken since time immemorial and one man in one boat will just have to be patient.
But, a few miles down the coast in Cornwall, the excellent marine photographer Charles Hood – now there’s a man who knows his sharks – was enjoying an epic encounter as I sat and peered at nothing. By one of those lucky twists of fate, in the boat with him – and very soon in the water with the sharks – was Jane Morgan, another brilliant photographer.
The image here was taken by her a few miles off Land’s End. Her photo is a celebration of the moment a lady and a shark danced around one another in the open sea, a symphony of light and elegance singing the blues.