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Shark invasion at Medmerry

Last modified: 27 July 2015

Smooth-hound at the water's edge, Medmerry

One of the smoothhound sharks in VERY shallow water at Medmerry. Image courtesy of Andrew House.

Image: Andrew House

An unprecedented group of up to 50 sharks swam into the shallow intertidal waters at RSPB Medmerry, near Selsey (West Sussex), on a rising tide on Wednesday 15 July 2015.

Measuring up to 1.5 metres (5 foot) in length, and with the typical triangular shark fins sticking out of the water, they were identified as smooth-hounds, a type of shark usually found offshore in coastal waters.

 The RSPB's Warden, Peter Hughes, was able to capture some moving footage of the spectacle.

"It was astonishing!" he said. "There were just these huge fish everywhere in knee-deep water. We knew in time that Medmerry was going to be a great place for wildlife, but I don’t think anyone expected this! We assume they were coming in to feed on the crabs and other marine life that have made their home at Medmerry. It just goes to show what happens when you give nature a home. Anyone wanting to see the sharks could view from the new footpaths around the perimeter of Medmerry. Trail maps, advice and facilities are all available from the nearby RSPB Pagham Harbour Visitor Centre at Sidlesham." Visitors should note that there is no access from the paths to the water's edge.

Medmerry is the largest open-coast managed realignment scheme ever in the UK, and was created by the Environment Agency between 2011 and 2013. The project, which was designed to protect over 350 homes in Selsey from coastal flooding, also allowed the creation of large areas of new, sheltered intertidal waters to compensate for the loss of protected wildlife habitats in The Solent.

The scheme has been a huge success, both in terms of reducing the flood risk for local people and in terms of the wildlife that has moved in, including in 2014 a pair of black-winged stilts which bred successfully for only the third time in the UK.

Today's events came after a couple of shark sightings last month. Up to two smooth-hounds were seen in Medmerry in mid-June, while six were seen in nearby RSPB Pagham Harbour around the same time.

Smooth-hounds are a relatively common native shark species around British coastal waters, although they are rarely seen. They are known to feed largely on crabs and other invertebrates, and often travel in groups. They can grow up to 150cm (5ft), but most are typically 120-130cm (4ft) long when mature.

The sharks returned in smaller numbers the following day, but have not returned since. Experts from the Shark Trust based at nearby Portsmouth agree that the behavior was unusual and unique. It's thought the site's crab population had become well established because it was a new intertidal site with no or very few predators, making it a hugely attractive picnic site for the sharks!

How you can help

Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.

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