February 09, 2024 7 min read

It can be easy to forget about the exciting wilderness we can find right on our doorstep but our Scottish waters are blessed with an abundance of wildlife and some more exotic than you may first think...

Our co-founder, Steve, is a major fan of shark-spotting and has himself, partaken in a Basking Shark excursion off the coast of Coll. This meant we were beyond excited when we had the opportunity to talk with Shane Wasik, wildlife photographer and owner of Basking Shark Scotland. Not only are Basking Shark Scotland a leader in ethical wildlife tours, but have also developed a selection of tours and experiences that vary in length and activities for all adventurers. It was super-interesting to hear more from Shane about how the company got started, the scientific contributions that they strive to make with their work, and about the friends like Dangerous Dave that they have made along the way...
We'd love to know a bit more about you. You’ve been diving since you were a child, how did you first get into diving? 
I actually started snorkelling a long time before diving. I’m a firm believer that being a confident and skilled snorkeler gives you a lot of water confidence and understanding. This makes a very easy transition to diving. I had a steep learning curve with a lot of shipwrecks, low visibility and dark conditions. For sure, I was nervous a few times, but I loved the adventure of it all so I enjoyed it.


 Image: baskingsharkscotland.co.uk


Being based between Scotland and New Zealand which are very different places, what made you choose Scotland as the location to set up your business?
Ha! New Zealand was a long time ago now, pre-kids and Covid, which has significantly clipped our wings. I was a bit bummed to be back in Scotland full time at the start and craved the adventure and ‘cool’ stuff to do that came with being based out in NZ. Scottish tourism was in a bad place then but it was right on the cusp of getting much better at the adventure stuff. We had lots of worldwide friends who loved adventure travel and we just thought they would love all the cool things to do here too. There wasn’t anything setup for tourism at all so we just gave it a punt and here we are. The islands around the west coast have amazing things to do and can be world-class for wildlife watching on the right day. It's just the weather can be that wee bit temperamental so it’s certainly not an easy thing to do for a job. It just means it’s extra-rewarding when it all comes together.
You’ve seen some amazing places whilst travelling, do you have any in particular that stand out as favourites?
Hmm, that's always hard to pick. My best ever experience was hiking up to the crater rim of Mt Yasur in Vanuatu (South Pacific). The whole thing was erupting right in front of you, we stayed till after dark and seeing that at night was a different gravy. It was very rustic, no safety, fences, ropes etc so it felt a very raw experience. The rumbling of the ground, sounds and sights gave you a very primal fear and was amazing to experience those reactions. It was something I've never had before.
What has been your most unforgettable underwater experience and what has been the rarest marine animal you’ve spotted in the flesh?
I should really say basking sharks due to the day job (but I do have lots of cool memories of other animals). We do have a funny relationship with them as we see so many. People travel from all over due to their rarity but we’re the opposite of that. Very few people could really have seen so many or so regularly. We do have to be mindful and make sure people understand how much has to come together for a basking shark experience. They were heavily hunted in the last century so it’s a miracle that you can still see them at all.


 Image: baskingsharkscotland.co.uk


I heard that you’re very into wreck diving, does that include right here in Scotland? And what has been your favourite shipwreck experience?

I cut my teeth on wrecks since a kid, so I do love a bit of rust!! Again, another hard choice to pick, BUT there was an era early in the ’00 where we were out diving a lot of un-dived shipwreck marks offshore. Every dive would be a new discovery, trying to locate a bell or crockery to identify the ship. As they were located offshore, conditions could be fantastic with bright daylight and fabulous visibility. Piecing together the puzzle afterwards was really exciting. One wreck, the Exmouth, was probably the most memorable as there were so many artefacts on her and she wasn’t too deep, meaning that we had lots of time to explore. It was the first time she had been explored and something all of us won’t forget. It really
was a golden era of exploring and would be hard to recreate now.

Our founder Stece has been on one of your tours with Basking Shark Scotland, and i'd love to go! When would you advise to be the optimum time of year for shark spotting?

We pretty much cut our peak season for sharks to the prime time of mid July to mid September. That period has been the most consistent for the last decade, but we would always advise a week long trip. If you take a trip that's shorter than that, the weather begins to have an impactful influence. They can be around April to October and be just as good as any time, but it’s far more unpredictable timing.


 Image: baskingsharkscotland.co.uk


If you had to sum up the Basking Shark’s character in three words, what would you choose?

Mysterious, determined and resilient!

Do you and your team ever recognise recurring basking sharks or give them names?

Yeah, you’d have to look back a bit but we had a really cool story with Sore Nose. A shark we saw in 2013 which had a plastic packing strap around it’s nose, very close to the eye. We were hoping to try and remove it but didn’t see it again unfortunately. However the next year, in 2014, we did see the same shark with a healed nose. It was 5 miles from the last sighting and 10 days from the same day the previous year. It was a great example of the same sharks returning to the same place year on year, along with the great news the shark healed and survived. Oh, and we do have another shark called Dangerous Dave, he has very big claspers and we always have a laugh about it. I’ll leave you to google claspers....


 Image: baskingsharkscotland.co.uk


That's really cool! What does a typical Basking Shark trip look like and is it better to go on a longer trip to get a better chance of seeing more sharks?

100% the longer the better, the weather has an influence and it can take us a whole week to find them. Our trips have a lot of different activities because if we spent a whole week just searching for sharks people would get bored very easily. So we snorkel at the lagoon, swim with seals, go to Fingal’s Cave to swim in the cavern, whale & dolphin watch and check out the seabirds like puffins. There is a lot of factors that need to come together for the sharks to be at the surface, so the more you understand about the oceanography and diet/foraging behaviour helps you manage the expectations.

In terms of marine conservation, in what ways do Basking Shark Scotland ‘make a difference’ and use their research?

This was a really big thing for me when we first setup Basking Shark Scotland, that we had a conservation or science element. We have such a great opportunity being in the field all the time to capture really great data. We’ve been involved in lots of projects, both joint and on our own, and now have a list of scientific publications. It includes things like capturing genetic material, details of mating/courtship, parasites, fouling, diet composition. However, I really enjoy the modern technology part where using kit like drones has really allowed a new view to observe behaviour and rare occurrences. An example from last year was the bluefin tuna chasing the shark. The tuna was likely trying to use the sharks rough skin to remove parasites. That was a 'world first' to release, so we get stoked on that stuff. Our passengers can get involved in some of the science and we do run some science-focussed trips too.


 Image: baskingsharkscotland.co.uk


I know that the sharks will be massively popular but what other animals do you love to spot on the Scottish waters?

There’s so many! It’s hard to get past having a close interaction with a seal. They are intelligent animals and engage with you for play, which is really special to have with a wild animal. However, seeing things like humpback whales is super cool, along with our last two orca John Coe and Aquarius. They won’t be around for that much longer and their ecotype will go extinct when they are gone. It’s a sad story so each sighting is really poignant.


 Image: baskingsharkscotland.co.uk


Huge thanks to Shane for chatting with us! We hope you're feeling as inspired as we are to go out and do some shark-spotting! It would be wasteful not to when it's right on our doorstep... For more information on Basking Shark Scotland, the different types of tours they provide and where to book tickets for your next adventure, you can check out their website here

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