British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2007-10-05 15:39:11

Basking Shark at Musselburgh, Edinburgh

At 11am I received a message left on my phone by Sue at BDMLR HQ asking if I would be able to attend a call to a Basking shark at Fisherrow Beach, Musselburgh. After speaking to Heather Walker, the member of the public who had initially called in I was informed that the shark was approximately 12ft long and swimming in shallow water. En route to my flat to pick up the medic kit bag and my dry suit I was called by SSPCA Senior Inspector Stuart Murray who said that the shark kept swimming a little way out to sea before turning back towards the shore. Both Inspector Murray and a second SSPCA inspector were already at the scene and had been there since approximately 10.30am after the initial call was first made to the SSPCA at approximately 8.30am. I arrived at Musselburgh beach at approximately 12noon (after a little trouble finding the right bit of beach!) where I was met by Inspectors Murray and Baldie from the SSPCA who were pleased to tell us that the shark had actually swum back out to sea and had been out for nearly an hour now. After saying that I would hang around for a while just to make sure it did not return Inspector Murray left for another job, leaving Inspector Robert Baldie on the shore with us.

At 12.30pm I received another call from Heather Walker saying that from her house slightly further down the beach she could see the shark swimming in circles back towards the shore. Along with Inspector Baldie, and Dr Mauvis Gore, a local basking shark expert we made our way along the beach to where we could see the shark already in the shallow water. By this time BDMLR medics Lisa Eckford-Soper and Fiona Monaghan had arrived (complete with pontoons should we require them) and Kath Duthie who stayed on the shore line keeping the public informed of what was happening the whole time (quite a large crowd had gathered by now including many children who were on their lunch break from school!). Closer examination of revealed that it was a juvenile male basking shark and approximately 3m long. There were numerous [Copyright Stuart Davenport, 2007] superficial lacerations along both pectoral fins, the dorsal fin, pelvic fin and caudal fin. Superficial lesions were also present bilaterally along the entire length, which could be associated with being tangled in nets? A circular lesion was present on the left hand side of the trunk, which was thought to possibly have been caused by a cookie cutter shark. Numerous copepods were visible on the caudal aspect of the dorsal fin. There was also considerable trauma to the snout. Along the entire body of the shark were distinct circular lesions on the skin, which Dr Gore thought may be a fungal infection. However despite the shark having many superficial signs of trauma over the entire body none of these appeared life threatening injuries but despite this it was obvious that the shark was rapidly becoming weaker and beginning to respond less to all of the human activity around it.

After discussion with the SSPCA and Dr Mauvis Gore it was decided that the shark required euthanasing to prevent it from suffering any further. As a result of this I then phoned Sue at HQ to ask if it would be possible to have a vet attend to make the final decision. There was some debate as to how would be the most humane method of killing the shark as Dr Gore advised that it would be preferable to use a firearm, although she did warn that basking sharks do have a very small brain, but she felt that euthanasia by lethal injection may prolong the suffering as it may take a while to take effect. By this time we had a considerable police presence (partially due to the increasing crowd on the beach) who put their firearms unit on standby. However after talking to Sue again (who had been in contact with James Barnett and Cameron McPherson) it was agreed that we should wait for Cameron to arrive before any decision was made. However after further discussion with the police they said that due to home office regulation and lack of a suitable firearm they would not be happy to kill the shark unless it was the last resort. Whilst we waited for Cameron McPherson to arrive we kept the shark in the shallow waters and as calm as possible. However by 3.20pm the tide had gone [Copyright Stuart Davenport, 2007] out too far for us to be able to keep the shark immersed fully in water and as there was now virtually no response to any activity around it was decided to keep the shark where it was and just to minimise any distress as much as possible. As the vet arrived at 3.45pm the SSPCA Inspectors had to leave to attend to other jobs.

Once Cameron arrived he proceeded to euthanase the shark using an overdose of Pentobarbitone (barbiturate). Approximately 200mls were administered using a needle and flutter valve into various different sites including intra-cardiac and intra-hepatic routes until we were sure there was no palpebral or corneal reflex and the shark was no longer suffering. A stomach sample was then collected using a needle and syringe and also a 1cm x1cm sample of skin, subcutaneous fat and muscle was taken from beneath the pelvic fin for Dr Gore. I left at 5.45pm as the council arrived to discuss moving the body and Dr Gore awaited the arrival of Bob Reid from the SAC who intends to post mortem the shark.

Thanks to medics Lisa Eckford-Soper, Fiona Monaghan and Kath Duthie, SSPCA Inspectors Stuart Murray and Robert Baldie, Cameron McPherson, Dr. Mauvis Gore, Sue at HQ for all her help and Nick Moore who kept checking in on us (and I know how annoyed he was to be away yet again!).

Sally Hessey
MMM Edinburgh
4th year Vet Student, RDVC