Basking Sharks in Cornwall (Top Hotspots)

Written by: Eliot Prince

“On the beach I always feel relaxed”

“Once in the water, I feel like I can rest my bones in the skin of the sea for ever”

“I hope I can share he love of the beach with my kids”

“I hope they surf with dolphins and basking sharks”

There’s no better passage to sum up Cornwall than that by author Sam Bleakley!

Cornwall is a majestic region that’s rich not only in natural beauty but also in the wildlife graces its waters.

One of these incredible animals is the basking shark, a gentle creature that’ll wow all those who witness it.

These animals are certainly a sight to behold; seeing even one of them is something you’ll remember for a lifetime!

And I’d love to give you a quick rundown of everything you need to know about spotting basking sharks in Cornwall. Specifically, we’ll explore:

  • What a basking shark is
  • The best times to see basking sharks in the region
  • The top spots to find these creatures
  • Several basking shark boat trips in Cornwall

Ready to find these enormous sharks? Let’s dive in!

(Don’t worry they won’t bite)

What is a Basking Shark?

Basking sharks are one of nature’s most paradoxical creations. 

This animal is the second largest fish to inhabit our oceans and can grow between 30–40 feet (9–12 metres) when mature — that’s roughly the size of a double-decker bus! An adult basking shark weighs about seven tonnes.

And you’ll find them swimming off the coast of Cornwall and British waters…

When you first see this animal, you’ll quickly notice that its most threatening feature is its array of over 1,500 small teeth arranged in six rows at the top and nine rows at the bottom. The shark swims (not to be confused with a whale shark) with its mouth agape, displaying its frightening jaw.

Don’t worry, though – these teeth are only meant to filter-feed on plankton! 

How does this work? Well, the shark propels itself through the water while keeping its mouth open, and the small teeth will then catch any plankton that’s floating in the area.

Basking sharks can filter an impressive four million pounds of water per hour. This is almost equal to the capacity of an Olympic-sized swimming pool!

The basking shark is only one of three species of shark to eat plankton. Contrary to the shark’s enormous, imposing appearance, they are actually peaceful giants who are completely harmless to humans. 

Basking sharks are so named because they “bask” on the surface of the water while filter feeding, making them quite unique and easily recognisable to onlookers. 

basking shark in cornwall with mouth open

Its other distinctive markings include a light grey body, with the top side darker than its underbelly. Additionally, you’ll also spot a large, black, rounded dorsal fin atop the shark’s back.

Want more basking shark facts? Currently, they have a population of around 10,000 in the Atlantic Ocean and they’re regularly spotted in Cornwall. The males are mature enough to reproduce at around 12 years old while females take a little longer at about 20 years. 

Although these animals have a lifespan of 50 years, adult basking sharks can only reproduce every two to four years, making the population growth quite slow. Hence, the protection and conservation of this species are paramount.

For many years, basking sharks were also hunted to the brink of extinction for the oil in their humongous livers. In a bid to save the species, the United Kingdom thankfully placed the shark under strict protection in 1998. This had lead to increases in numbers in places like the south west and the isle of man

When Are Basking Sharks in Cornwall?

two basking sharks seen near the coast of Cornwall

Sharks are a migrating species that spend their winter months in the deep waters near the equator. 

When the water temperatures begin to rise in Cornwall to reach around 12 degrees, the basking sharks start migrating to the area. 

As a result, these animals typically appear in Cornwall between April and October. However, these times often vary, so it’s best to be on a constant lookout!

During this time of year, the increased sunlight and nutrients in the water create a plankton bloom. This invites the sharks as they feed off of the phytoplankton.

Since plankton undergo photosynthesis at the water’s surface, this encourages the basking sharks to spend time “basking” in the sunlight while filter feeding.

Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, basking sharks were more abundant and came closer to shore than ever before. Many believe that this behaviour was due to dwindling marine traffic.

Further, because of the warming ocean temperatures, scientists predict a more frequent influx of basking sharks in Cornwall in the years to come.

The best time to see these majestic creatures is on a sunny day with weak winds and low swell for optimal visibility!

Where to See Basking Sharks in Cornwall

There are many popular walking treks around Cornwall where locals and tourists alike go to spot basking sharks from the shore. When setting out, a pair of binoculars is always handy (but by no means necessary).

basking shark mouth wide open near Cornwall

Aside from being excellent for witnessing basking sharks, a walking trek also doubles as a wonderful activity for a fun day out – especially for those with younger children or weaker swimmers who may not be able to snorkel with the sharks.

Additionally, spotting basking sharks from the shore is a great, free activity if you’re looking for something that’s budget-friendly while still providing plenty of excitement!

If you’re lucky, you may even see basking sharks jumping from or breaching the water. The incredible moment when a five-tonne creature becomes airborne is an entirely extraordinary experience! 

When it does happen, onlookers are often surprised to learn that these creatures have the ability to jump.

Going on a diving or snorkelling trip to see basking sharks is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! When a shark’s mouth is wide open, it could easily swallow a person whole. Luckily, these animals prefer food that is a lot smaller than humans.

Basking sharks are quite curious, but they’re not aggressive in any way. This makes them the perfect sharks for cautious people and thrillseekers alike to swim with.

There are also plenty of social media groups and pages such as “Basking Sharks Cornwall” where locals post about the latest sightings and whereabouts of these gorgeous creatures. This is extremely helpful for tourists who are on a quest for a glimpse!

In the following list, we’ll explore some of the best places to see basking sharks in Cornwall:

Sennen Cove and Land’s End 

basking shark off porthcurno

Land’s End is England’s southwestern tip and is located only eight miles from Penzance. 

Sennen Cove, meanwhile, is a small town north of Land’s End that offers excellent locations for scouting out and finding sharks.

There’s a beautiful walk with plenty of seabirds and wildflowers in spring from Sennen Cove to Land’s End. At three miles long, the path offers breathtaking views from the headlands and clifftops – making it a great place to spot basking sharks in the water.

Whitesand Bay in Sennen is a particularly popular spot to see basking sharks by boat as well! 

If you’re into surfing then pickup the book – Meditation and Surfing: A Guide to Zen, Waves and Mindfulness. The author Sam Bleakley writes a beautiful passage about wishing to take his children surfing with the basking sharksand dolphins at Gwenver beach (next door to Sennen)! It really inspires the wanderlust in your soul!

Dogs on leads are also seasonally welcome in this area, so it’s a great opportunity for dog owners to exercise their furry friends while also hopefully spotting a shark from the coastline.

Charles Hood has been diving with basking sharks in the area since 1980, and the company he founded offers one of the most well-known tours in Cornwall! 

Charles often combines basking shark trips with grey seal ones, while also offering opportunities to see dolphins, whales, and turtles – making for a truly immersive and value-packed experience. 

The boat tours adhere to the “Shark Trust” rules to keep both passengers and sharks safe. 

In addition, all trips are subject to weather conditions; after all, sunny skies and calm winds are required to bring plankton to the surface. And where plankton goes, basking sharks follow!

Do keep in mind that while these animals follow similar feeding patterns, spotting basking sharks isn’t always guaranteed. 

It’s therefore always a good idea check in with the community of guides, fishermen, and coastguards who keep track of their whereabouts. Tours are extremely popular, so booking in advance is advised!

Coastline around Newquay

The coast of Newquay, Cornwall, is also a well-known home of basking sharks. If you’re in the area between May and mid July, head over to Atlantic Diving’s shark safaris for an opportunity to get up close and personal with these animals!

The company provides plenty of photo opportunities and even encourages people to take pictures of the sharks. 

However, remember to turn your flash off as the sudden light can deter and disrupt the species.

Atlantic Diving won the Cornwall Tourism award in 2014 and 2015, so if you’re in the Newquay area and want to see a basking shark, you know you’ll be in good hands!

Lizard Point

This area is part of the Lizard Peninsula on the southern Cornwall coast. At Britain’s southernmost point, you’ll find the popular Lizard Lighthouse: a well-known landmark of the region. 

Tickets to this building can be purchased daily, making it a rather popular tourist attraction in the region. Among marine life, Lizard Point is well-known for being the home of whales, seals, and – of course – basking sharks!

The walk is four miles long, but you can lengthen or shorten the trek depending on where you start. With plankton blooms common in the area, you have plenty of opportunities to see the majestic creatures.

What makes Lizard Point one of the most popular spots to see basking sharks is that you can adapt the walk length relative to your fitness level and time availability. 

Additionally, the elevated vantage point means you can easily see the sharks from the shore!

Mount’s Bay

mount's bay basking shark area

There’s plenty of footage online posted by boat owners of the basking sharks that live in the waters surrounding Mount’s Bay. 

Locals often walk along the clifftops daily with binoculars during the spring in hopes of catching a glimpse of these creatures!

There are multiple loop tracks to choose from in Mount’s Bay that serve as great spots to view basking sharks. 

For instance, the Praa Sands to Trewavas Mine path follows the rugged cliffs of the bay and offers plenty of viewpoints.

At 4.4 miles long, the breathtaking landscape will allow you to take in the picturesque sights of the clear blue waters – and maybe a few gigantic animals to boot! 

St Ives Coastline

St ives porthmeor beach

The St Ives coast is a popular locale where basking sharks are often seen breaching the water. 

This incredible sight is one of the most memorable experiences you can have with these animals (aside, of course, from swimming with them up close!).

Other than basking sharks, there are also blue sharks and great white sharks in the area. Because there’s plenty to watch out for, shark enthusiasts will definitely enjoy spending a day here.

Many organised boat trips take off from St Ives for a more casual and leisurely time around these animals. 

If you’re a hiker or someone looking for a more extreme experience, there’s a popular walk from St Ives to Lizard that features plenty of places to spot basking sharks.

However, at a length of 69 miles (111 km), the hike is a commitment that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted! It’s a moderately difficult path with a few sections of steep incline and rocky terrain. 

For marine enthusiasts, it’s definitely a recommended hike as the area covers a range of viewpoints and coastal areas where you’ll likely be able to see basking sharks. As a bonus, you’ll also experience the beautiful Cornish countryside.

The hike is also dog-friendly, so bring your canine friend along with you if you’d like!

Gwennap Head

Gwennap Head

Four miles south of Land’s End, you’ll find in Gwennap Head an easy one-mile walk that traverses sandy coves and granite cliffs. 

This is a great place to choose if you have younger children or older family members as the walk is relatively short and features only gently slopes.

At Gwennap Head, there’s a lookout post commonly used for shark spotting and birdwatching. Dolphins and other cetaceans are often seen in the water alongside basking sharks.

In the last two years, this spot has become increasingly well-known for basking shark spotting as the animal’s numbers have steadily increased. Reports say that the sharks are often spotted in groups of two or three here!

Since basking sharks are pretty slow swimmers (at around 2.3 miles per hour), onlookers will have plenty of opportunity to spot them, too.

Get up close and personal with Basking Sharks in Cornwall!

It would be a shame to visit Cornwall in the summer months and miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with a basking shark.

With the abundant hotspots to view this creature and variety of different tours you can take, you’ll have plenty of choices wherever you may find yourself in the county!

Aside from basking sharks, you may be lucky enough to catch sight of other creatures frolicking in the waters as well. 

See if you can spot them on scenic walks along the coast, or on boat trips that may even give you the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants.

Thanks to its natural richness, Cornwall is truly the place to be for a once-in-a-lifetime, breathtaking time with wildlife!

When can I see basking sharks in Cornwall?

You can see basking sharks all around the Cornish coastline. In particular you can take boat trips around Newquay, St Ives, Land’s End and Lizard Point for the best chances of a sighting!

When are the basking sharks in Cornwall?

Basking sharks are in Cornwall during the warmer summer months when the sea water is more mild. They migrate from deeper in the Atlantic to feed and Bask in the Cornish sunshine. Most commonly, their numbers in creases between May and August.

Can you swim with basking sharks in Cornwall?

Yes, it is possible swim with basking sharks in Cornwall. You can book trips with boat operators and dive schools in Newquay and St Ives. The trips are not always guaranteed success as despite their size, you’re not guaranteed to find these big fish. But if you do, it’s a once in a life time opportunty!