As a sailing instructor, Englishwoman Jennifer Kneale has seen her fair share of sea creatures. But in late June 2018 the she had an experience that she will not forget anytime soon. The 37-year-old was kayaking in local coastal waters when she had an extremely close encounter with a denizen of the deep. In fact, the huge sea beast had its mouth wide open – and it was coming straight for her…
The 7th Wave sailing school is situated in Port Erin Bay on the Isle of Man, which lies off the north-west coast of England. The training establishment is a Royal Yachting Association-accredited instruction center. In addition to all kinds of sailing courses, 7th Wave also offers kayak hire and is owned and operated by Kneale.
Having started the company in 2006, Kneale has based her business in Port Erin for the last ten years. She originally studied maritime leisure management to degree level, and the experienced sailor has since logged in excess of 20,000 miles at sea. Kneale has also clocked up more than 20 years of experience as an instructor for the Royal Yachting Association.
Indeed, that body has recognized Kneale as a Yachtmaster, which means she is officially acknowledged for her ability to helm sailing or motor boats. And it seems that a love of life on the ocean waves runs in the Kneale family, as her brother, Dave, works alongside her at the sailing school as its chief powerboat instructor. Both siblings have a wealth of maritime experience, but nothing could have prepared them for what they witnessed in the early summer of 2018.
In the late afternoon of Friday, June 22, the Kneales were coming to the end of another working week at the Port Erin base. It had so far been a case of business as usual at 7th Wave, until the proprietor received some exciting news. She was told that an unusual visitor had been spotted in the bay – so the inquisitive marine-life enthusiast decided to go out and investigate.
Consequently, Kneale hastily got together a like-minded kayaking crew from the school and took to the waters of Port Erin Bay to see the visitor for themselves. They were not to be disappointed and soon came face-to-face with the fearsome creature. Thankfully, the resourceful Kneale had a camera to hand and was able to capture some incredible footage of the amazing encounter. And when the wider world got to share the experience after the resulting video went viral, it was the internets’ turn to be left open mouthed.
Originally, Kneale hosted the footage on the official 7th Wave Facebook page. “It had reached 5:00 p.m. on a Friday evening and we were just finishing up our work day… when we heard a report of a shark in the bay,” Kneale wrote in an accompanying caption. “Instead of heading home, our team took the kayaks out for a rare treat. We assembled a small armada in the bay and headed out to try and spot him.”
So Kneale and her select band of 7th Wavers pointed their kayaks in the direction of where the shark had reportedly been sighted and set off. And the paddling posse did not have to travel far around Port Erin Bay, before they saw the beast from below with their own eyes.
In fact, although basking sharks may look immensely menacing, the colossal sea creatures do not present a danger to humans. But that does not mean that the spectacular sight of one is not mightily impressive. Indeed, they are the second-largest member of the fish species, with only whale sharks besting them size-wise.
Basking sharks can live for as long as 50 years and usually grow to a mature length of between 20 and 26 feet. Nevertheless, super-sized specimens of 32 feet in length have been recorded in the past. But the placid creatures achieve such growth on the back of little more than a diet of plankton, which they eat through an internalized filtration system. So, to sum up, the huge “predator” is not interested in biting and eating humans and is considered non-violent.
And while it is rare to spot them in such close proximity in British waters, basking sharks are by no means strangers to those shores. Typically, they can be seen all along the West Coast of the U.K. – from Cornwall in the south, through the waters of the Isle of Man and up to the Scottish Hebrides – between the months of May and October.
But nonetheless, Kneale and her sailing instructor colleagues were in awe of the up-close-and-personal appearance happening before their eyes. And Kneale’s footage captured the eerily serene scene so well. For two whole hours, the basking shark put on a special show in the calm of the tranquil summer evening as it swam in slow motion around the 7th Wave witnesses.
In Kneale’s video, the creature presents the classic shark image of the fin slicing purposefully through the water. But mostly the basking shark is seen earning its name, gliding about the bay with its massive mouth wide open. The camerawoman told her Facebook followers, “The shark had clearly found a favored feeding spot that was rich in plankton, as he was swimming around, open-mouthed, getting merrily full.”
And the kayaking staff of the 7th Wave sailing school were evidently not the only ones watching the natural spectacle. As Kneale followed the basking shark with her camera, her panning shot picks up a small collection of other similar-sized craft following the action. But, as Kneale revealed, the shark did not seem to mind.
Kneale’s footage seems at times to have no sound, but there was a simple reason for that – all the vessels in the video were silent running for fear of spooking the visiting shark. “He didn’t seem concerned by the flotilla of small crafts and made frequent close passes by,” Kneale revealed on Facebook. “They are inquisitive creatures and will come and investigate you if you sit still.”
And thankfully that is what all the onlookers in the Port Erin Bay video appear to be doing, as the summer sunlight glints off the waves and the basker goes about its business. “Everyone who was there to witness this reacted really well to the shark – they all correctly followed the Basking Shark Code of Conduct, which advises vessels to keep still and just watch,” Kneale reported. “It was truly breathtaking, people were calm and quiet with nervous excitement with each close encounter.”
Indeed, it seemed that the code of conduct, introduced by the U.K. Marine Conservation Society, was perhaps not necessary on this occasion. The kayaks are shown being gently rocked by the massive movement of the beast underwater, but their occupants are just rolling with the experience. Everyone keeps quiet and still and simply revels in the breathless peace and natural wonder of the moment. Subsequently, however, viewers of the video online loudly voiced their envy towards Kneale and her crew for the magical experience they enjoyed that day.
Indeed, the footage and the story were shared far and wide over the internet after it had initially appeared on the 7th Wave Facebook page. When it was picked up by U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail, one viewer commented under the report, “Big gentle giant… it’s a real privilege to be so close.” And others were in full agreement, with one writing, “Beautiful… lucky kayaking people,” and another simply saying, “What a great sight, great creature.”
Other contributors took the opportunity to point out that basking sharks are harmless and there was no reason for anyone to be afraid. Nevertheless, some other internet users held their hands up and said they would not be able to avoid feeling that way in a similar situation. “Wow – amazing to see so closely!” one person wrote. “Have to admit though I’m not sure I could have remained so calm, it looks like Jaws!”
The world’s naturalists are still discovering more information about basking sharks as sightings such as Kneale’s occur, but nevertheless some mysteries still abide. One thing that is clear, however, is that the global population of the species is decreasing. Basking sharks are often caught and killed illegally for their bodies, skin and fins to be turned into oil and leather. It looks like that Basking Shark Code of Conduct may not be so unnecessary after all.