People travel to Cornwall for many different reasons. One of the more unique is for the chance to see sharks– or even to experience swimming with them!
Sharks are fascinating ocean animals, and people have been drawn to them for years. (Or give them a very wide birth depending on your feelings towards sharp teeth…)
You can join the tradition in Cornwall by taking a look at the sharks living in the nearby waters, or going out with an operator who provides these unforgettable shark encounter experiences.
Are There Sharks in Cornwall?
As you might have guessed from the introduction: Yes, there are sharks in Cornwall!
Cornwall boasts a wide variety of sharks in its waters, as well as some that live in aquariums on shore if you’re not up for an ocean trip.
Of course, seeing the sharks in the ocean is never guaranteed, as many of the sharks that live around Cornwall have broad migration patterns.
However, with such a wide variety of commonplace interactions– it’s definitely possible!
What Types of Sharks are in Cornwall?
Cornwall intersects many different shark territories, and so boasts a large variety of sharks nearby:
Basking sharks are regularly spotted in Cornwall – as the peninsula pushes out into the Atlantic, the sharks’ range carries them into Cornish waters frequently.
These sharks can grow to be up to 9 metres long, so they’re quite the sight if you’re lucky enough to run into them!
They’re also very unique sharks, with their permanently open mouths. Even though those mouths look big enough to swallow you whole, don’t worry! Basking sharks strictly eat zooplankton only.
If you’re a little worried about being around sharks, basking sharks are a great option to still be in close proximity to these amazing animals without the fear of being mistaken for a meal.
Blue sharks are an incredibly extensive species of shark, and can be found almost all over the world.
They are the sharks that come to mind when you hear these words; slim, lean, with pointed noses, and round eyes on the sides of their heads.
They can get quite big, too: Up to 3.8 metres in length, although most tend to be closer to around 2.5 metres.
Blue sharks are named for their colouring on their upper side. So, if you’re underneath one, you might not be able to recognise it initially!
This is because the lower side of the shark is white. The contrast between these colours provides the shark camouflage in the water that helps it to avoid any larger sharks predating on it, and to conceal itself from its prey.
These sharks are one of the more curious varieties you’ll find in Cornwall and you’ll quite likely run into them if you go out on a trip into the ocean specifically to see sharks.
However, running across them is actually quite unlikely as they usually have to be attracted by using some form of bait.
Porbeagles are found widely in the Southern hemisphere. In the Northern hemisphere, they tend to inhabit only the North Atlantic.
Luckily, that’s right by Cornwall!
Porbeagles exist in water up to 1300 metres deep, but move between shallower or deeper elevations depending on the time of day and their needs.
They’re quite long at up to 3.5 metres, and look a lot thicker than most other sharks. These sharks partly resemble the great whites that are shown in movies – large and round, with a similar snout shape.
Porbeagles aren’t man-eaters, however. Smaller sharks, fish, and squid make up the bulk of their diet. The only recorded attacks by porbeagles on humans have been considered accidents.
Thresher sharks, like blue sharks, are present in many areas. They can inhabit waters as deep as 500 metres, but are also found closer to the surface in coastal or reef regions.
They can reach enormous lengths (up to 6 metres!), but most sharks measure around 2 or 3 metres long when they first mature.
Only the common thresher shark is found around Cornwall, as the other subspecies adhere to more tropical waters.
Their name comes from the way they use their tails. They thrash (or thresh) their tails in the water to stun their prey before coming in for the kill.
Younger sharks are eaten by larger sharks, but large mature threshers only have few predators.
Where to See Sharks in Cornwall
You can see sharks in Cornwall in a variety of locations, both indoors and out.
Cornwall boasts the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, which is a great option if you don’t feel like making the trip out into the open seas.
This aquarium houses many different kinds of aquatic animals including varieties of fish, turtles, crustaceans– and the most important, sharks!
In the aquarium’s ocean tunnel exhibit, you can spot blacktip reef sharks, lesser spotted cat sharks, and bull huss sharks. With all these varieties available, it’s definitely a great chance to get your shark fix.
That’s not all.
Just over the border into Plymouth is the UK’s National Marine Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the country.
Lemon, sandbar, nurse, sand tiger, and zebra sharks feature in the NMA’s Atlantic ocean exhibit, offering a huge variety of sharks to see.
On top of that, the NMA has a wide array of other exhibits including other marine life such as fish, rays, crustaceans, and cephalopods.
This means that it’s a perfect spot for both shark enthusiasts and ocean lovers in general to come and experience being around ocean life.
Plus, with food services, play areas for children, and several guided tours and interactive activities, the NMA is a great spot to come with even friends and family not as enthusiastic about marine life.
If neither of those tickle your fancy, Cornwall houses several other aquariums on both coasts.
Basking Shark Hotspots
If you’re looking for basking sharks in particular, there are a few key areas to keep an eye on.
Gwennap Head, St Ives, Land’s End, and The Lizard are all good spots to look for basking sharks, as they have been sighted here multiple times.
Other Hotspots and Shark Viewing Tips
If you have a Facebook account, it might be worth joining the Cornwall Shark Spotter page. It’s evidently active and will give you up-to-date information about shark sightings in the last few days.
Also, if you go to Penzance, many tour boat operators can organise shark viewing for you.
Swimming with Sharks in Cornwall
Swimming with sharks is an exhilarating experience, and likely the closest you’ll ever get to sharks.
There are several providers in Cornwall who can help you get to do it!
In general, these providers will take you along with several others out on a boat into the Atlantic off the Cornish coast. They’ll then scatter chum into the water to attract sharks.
Once the sharks arrive, you’ll be able to see them and swim with them– if you so wish.
When you look for a shark diving or swimming operator, remember to make sure they follow the WiSe scheme and are accredited under it.
This scheme is the British government’s way of trying to minimise harmful interactions with wildlife. As such, tour operators accredited under WiSe are much more likely to help you have safe and enjoyable encounters with sharks than those who are not.
Below is a short list of shark dive operators, together with their location and some brief information to help you make a decision. Each operator mentioned below is WiSe accredited:
Availability: June–October, all day.
Blue Shark Snorkel operates trips out to swim with– unsurprisingly– blue sharks.
They offer various pricing depending on how many people are interested, but their individual price is £195.
You’ll need some previous experience with SCUBA diving too, as they don’t cater to complete newbies.
There’s no need to be an expert, but you should have dived once or twice before, and also should be comfortable with being in open water around marine wildlife.
Blue Shark’s trips can take a differing amount of time depending on how long it will take for sharks to show up at the boat – however, they do always wait for them to do so. In their own words: “Whether it takes 30 minutes, or 3 hours!”.
Availability: March-November, all day.
AK Wildlife operates cruises that look for general wildlife in the area, including various kinds of shark.
Children’s fares are £60, while adults are a little more expensive at £75. Additionally, unlike with Blue Shark Snorkel, you don’t need any prior experience with the ocean or wildlife to go on the trip.
However, they don’t offer diving opportunities, so the best you’ll get is to look at the sharks from the boat.
Moreover, you’re not guaranteed to see sharks. However, if you’re looking for something a little less intense, this might be the choice for you.
If neither of these take your fancy, you can find a full list of WiSe-accredited tour operators in Cornwall here.
Are there Great White Sharks in Cornwall?
Although there have been several reports of great whites in Cornish waters, there have been no widely confirmed sightings. Many of the reports of great whites in Cornwall have been further revealed to be misreporting.
Large Porbeagles in particular can resemble a great white, and there is even the odd Mako shark that can find itself in Cornish waters and also be mistaken for a great white.
Of course, we can’t be entirely sure there are no great whites in Cornwall! They are surely becoming more and more likely to be inhabiting English waters, due to global warming.
However, as there haven’t been any confirmed sightings yet, it’s unlikely that you’ll be running across a great white on your trip through Cornwall.
Have there been Shark Attacks in Cornwall?
Just like any place with sharks and people who interact with them, a shark attack is always a possibility here.
Unfortunately, there has been at least one shark attack in Cornwall. In August of 2022, someone swimming with sharks was bitten on the leg.
However, this was a minor injury. Other news reports around shark attacks (such as this one from 2018) show clear reasons for the attack. In this particular case, the shark was being caught and removed from the water, prompting it to be aggressive.
There is always some risk, so it’s best to go prepared. However, in general, it’s normally the case that if you don’t bother the sharks, they won’t bother you either– especially considering the types of sharks commonly found around Cornwall.
Experiencing sharks in Cornwall is a great way to add that special touch to your next holiday, whether you’re a nature lover yourself, are going with someone who is– or just feel curious.
You can see various kinds of shark both in aquariums and out in the open sea, and can get in contact with them to varying degrees.
Remember to make sure that any tour operator you use is WiSe-accredited, and to pack warm clothing if you’re going out on the water!
Other than that: Enjoy meeting some sharks, and have a wonderful time in Cornwall!
Introducing Eliot, the Editor here and Cornwall local with a wanderlust spirit and an insatiable appetite for adventure. With a passion for the great outdoors, he can often be found catching waves on his surfboard, scaling peaks on a hiking trail, or discovering hidden gems in his exploration of Cornwall.