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SCS is a small volunteer run Society which has achieved an enviable record of conservation and research wins. The world today is obsessed with everything needing to be safe. A small adventure group of shark enthusiasts (SCS) simply can't afford the legal, insurance and administrative back-up which would guard against any risks of SCS having to pay out in the event of a claim or a legal action. The cost of our expeditions would have to double or treble!

When I read last year that a BBC film crew had to do a 'risk assessment' before filming a group of Morris dancers it brought home to me just how pathetic the world has become, we all know how dangerous knotted hankies can be! Today's adventurer who wants to be safe must wrap him/her self in cotton wool, go to bed and watch TV.

The directors of the Society are currently studying this problem searching for a way for our expeditions to be able to continue. It is with great regret therefore we have to announce that until this process has been completed, and a way forward found, we will have to suspend expeditions.

To our loyal supporters and past volunteers the message is 'We are not going away, won't lie down, and will find a way at going on, even if it involves all volunteers having to buy shares in cotton wool and avoid Morris dancers'! More to follow.

Outer Hebrides Shark Search Expedition

Expedition report September 17th – October 1st 2011.

Personnel and Acknowledgements

Organisers - Shark Conservation Society.

Expedition leader - Richard Peirce.

Catering, shorebase, first aid - Jacqui Peirce.

Videographer - Simon Spear (Elasmo Films).

Scientific advisor - Daniel Moore.

Volunteer researchers - A Bennett, M Bradfield, R Coales, G Conway, T Perkins, F Seelig, A Sweeney, A Thomas.

Skippers - N Ingledew, P Harding.

The Society would like to thank

  • Uist Outdoor Centre
  • Andrew Rodger
  • Willie Stewart
  • Philip Harding
  • Donald MacDonald
  • Astrid


The objectives of the expedition were twofold:

  • To carry out a general shark survey, using catch and release, out to and around the Monach Islands, around Pabbay and Berneray through the Sound of Harris, out into the Little Minch and south down the east coast of North Uist.
  • To gather meteorological, environmental, oceanographic, and other data so that conditions in the work area could be compared to conditions in areas of known Great White shark abundance in South Africa, California and South Australia.

Preparation and Planning

For several years I (Richard Peirce) had planned this expedition but it had never been able to go ahead due to suitable sponsors not having been found. Ultimately it was decided to go ahead without a sponsor/s with the expedition being funded by splitting the costs among the volunteers.

Philip Harding of North Uist proved an invaluable ally in matters of planning and preparation and provided the contacts who supplied the local knowledge and facilities.

Survey areas were selected on the basis of known seal colonies, reports of local feed fish abundance and areas of specific interest.


A total of 14 days work was hoped for and the Monach Islands, Pabbay, Berneray, the Sound of Harris, the Little Minch, southeast Harris and northeast North Uist were the survey sites chosen.


Two vessels were chartered. The Sea Otter skippered by Philip Harding was used for sea loch and inshore work, and the Lady Anne skippered by Nick Ingledew was used for further offshore and longer distances.

Planned Work Days

Lady Anne

Monach Islands – 4 days

Boreray/Pabbay/Berneray/Shillay – 3 days

The Little Minch – 3 days

Sea Otter

Little Minch – 4 days

Sound of Harris – 4 days

In the event we only worked 7 out of the 14 days, and the weather and sea conditions meant that we never got out to the Monach Islands which should have been our main work area. The days that we did work we were often not in the place we wanted to be, and we couldn’t work in the way we had planned. Although Lady Anne was able to work 7 days, the smaller Sea Otter only did 3 days. Out of a possible total of 24 work days (Lady Anne 14, Sea Otter 10) we achieved only 10 with both boats, and as previously stated never got to our prime objective.

In terms of data gathering we didn’t achieve enough for even a valid snapshot view, and shark surveying was negatively affected as we couldn’t properly work the main target areas.

Daily Report

Saturday September 17th

The main team of 7 aboard Lady Anne did two drifts, one of 2.3 miles and the other of 2.6 miles. With just under 5 miles travelled we probably chummed an area of 8 miles. We chummed onto Toe Head, then past Coppay, Shillay and Pabbay.

Good weather conditions/slight sea state/8-10 knot wind. The fishing was good all day with mackerel and pollock both being caught in good numbers. We covered a lot of water and the feed sources were good so it was a surprise we didn’t encounter sharks of any species.

Lady Anne chummed 6.5 hours.

Sea Otter with 3 volunteers worked out of Locheport just offshore and to the south in the area of Philip Harding’s 2005 possible Great White shark sighting at Aignish.

Sea Otter chummed 7 hours.

Sunday September 18th

Sea Otter couldn’t work so both teams worked aboard Lady Anne. We did three drifts, the first was between Berneray and Pabbay, and the second and third were between Pabbay and Shillay. On the second drift we were not able to deploy the shark rods due to the close proximity of seals. The third drift to the west of Pabbay had to be cut short due to an increasing sea state.

Again mackerel and pollock were caught in numbers but despite 5.5 hours chumming there were no sharks.

Lady Anne chummed 5.5 hours.

Monday September 19th

The weather forecast was deteriorating and this looked like the last workable day for a while. The Sea Otter team worked their usual area outside the mouth of Locheport, and the Lady Anne worked the west end of the Sound of Harris between Pabbay and the southwest promontory of Harris. A similar picture for both boats, plenty of mackerel and pollock caught but no sharks seen on the surface and little action on the shark rods. When winding one of the rods in at the end of the first Lady Anne drift we did have a take, but whatever it was dropped the bait.

At the end of the third day we were all disappointed not to have been able to get to the Monach Islands which was our main objective. However I was quite happy that we were covering the ground, all our procedures were working well and had there been sharks around our chum trails, baited rods and cameras would have recorded them.

Sea Otter chummed for 6 hours.

Lady Anne chummed for 5 hours.

Tuesday September 20th

Strong winds prevented either Sea Otter or Lady Anne putting to sea.

Cancelled – adverse weather.

Wednesday September 21st

Cancelled – adverse weather.

Thursday September 22nd

Lady Anne did two drifts to the east of the Sound of Harris. The first was going east to the southeast of Scaravay, and the second was drifting northeast starting south of Hermetray. A total of 4.5 miles was covered, and once again no sharks.

Sea Otter worked her usual area in the Little Minch to the east of Aignish and also recorded no sharks.

Lady Anne chummed for 6 hours.

Sea Otter chummed for 6 hours.

By the end of the fourth day we had been averaging 6 hours chumming a day per boat which means 42 hours had been chummed up to the end of the day. We had good drifts, covered a lot of ground, had shark rods set at different depths, the chumming was working well and there were plenty of fish being caught.

One major problem was that we were working blind without any local intelligence as to previous shark catches. Off Cornwall for example I would know, or could find out, what sharks were being caught where and when. Shark angling and inshore longlining records don’t exist for our work area so we could easily have been working in the wrong areas for sharks. The only way to deal with this would have been to cover all the ground and we were stopped by the weather.

Friday September 23rd

Sea conditions prevented the smaller Sea Otter from working so only Lady Anne put to sea. Two drifts were done to the northeast of Shillay. Same pattern, good chumming, fish caught, no sharks seen.

Lady Anne chummed 6 hours.

Saturday September 24th

Cancelled, adverse weather (Force 8)

Sunday September 25th

Cancelled, adverse weather (Force 8)

Monday September 26th

The wind dropped and we had high hopes of at last getting out to the Monach Islands. However as soon as we turned out of the shelter towards the southwest we got our heads blown off and had to turn back.

We had to find shelter and so worked the other end of the Sound of Harris doing a long 5.5 mile drift going northeast of Renish point. Plenty of mackerel and pollock but no sharks.

Lady Anne chummed for 5 hours.

Tuesday September 27th

Cancelled, adverse weather.

Wednesday September 28th

Cancelled, adverse weather

Thursday September 29th

The forecast for our last two days was again grim but today was a window of relative calm so everyone went to work aboard Lady Anne, but we had to work the eastern end of the Sound of Harris and into the Little Minch because the western end would have been unworkable. We did a 5 mile drift with the now all too familiar result – plenty of mackerel and pollock but no sharks.

Lady Anne chummed for 6 hours.

Friday September 30th/Saturday October 1st

These had originally been planned as expedition days, but most of the volunteers left as the weather as forecast would have prevented working. However on Saturday October 1st the law of sod struck a hammer blow by defying the forecasters and producing a wonderful sunny, almost windless, calm day that would have allowed us to get out to the Monach Islands. The volunteers were on land driving south, and the vessel myself and Jacqui were on was a car ferry!


Only a total of 53 hours out of a hoped for 100 plus hours were chummed. Our main work area (the Monach Islands) was never visited, and we were not in many of the places we worked by choice, but because we were forced there by conditions.

A limited amount of data was gathered and for what it’s worth we will compare this with data sets from South Africa and south Australia.

The shark survey cannot post any results other than we found places where there weren’t any sharks!

Sometimes the best that can be achieved is a high standard of failure, and thanks to the quality of the SCS volunteers this was certainly accomplished!


Due to the very limited amount of work achieved the expedition has to be considered a failure. The main conclusion is that it is probably a mistake to pre-plan at sea expeditions in the British Isles. In future we will wait for a settled British summer and react accordingly!

Out of all the doom and gloom I would end with two messages/observations.

  • Thank you to all our volunteers. You were a pleasure to work with, and the way you all dealt with the disappointment of not being able to achieve what we came to do was a great example of a good team keeping their morale high. You are what makes SCS what it is.
  • Sea otters, red deer, fish eagles, golden eagles, porpoises, dolphins, gannet etc. etc. were a great consolation prize.


As has been recorded elsewhere in this report there have been credible sightings of Great White sharks in the waters of the Outer Hebrides. The Society has never said that the sharks concerned were Great Whites, we have said the reports remain credible following investigation.

One such report was of an encounter in July 2005 when an angling party led by Philip Harding saw a large shark off Aignish in North Uist. Whilst our expedition was in North Uist we were approached by a local fisherman called Donald MacDonald whose brother (now dead) also reported what he thought was a Great White in the same place and within a few days of Philip Harding’s sighting.

It is interesting to note that credible reports of possible Great White shark sightings are clustered in two areas of the British Isles (Cornwall and north west Scotland), and that these encounters are usually not isolated incidents. It therefore came as no surprise when MacDonald corroborated the Harding report.


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