Spotting Basking Sharks in Cornwall

Spotting Basking Sharks in Cornwall

gb United Kingdom

Travel Update: Most places are open. Still, check the official websites and read our crucial BEST TIME tips below to help you AVOID THE CROWDS or secure tickets | Book Tip: 50 U.S. States - 5000 Ideas

When Is the Best Time

When Is the Best Time

The season for basking sharks usually starts in May and last until October. Actually, the best time is mid-May until mid-July. However, there is no guarantee to spot these sharks. In 2017 the best time was April until the beginning of May. In 2018 the first sighting of two sharks was at the end of April. In recent years, fewer basking sharks were spotted. In 2019 two basking sharks were already seen on March 12 which is pretty early.

Very important are good weather conditions, a sunny day and calm wind to spot them on the surface of the sea and for snorkeling with them as well. Book your trip at short notice. First, check if basking sharks are already around the coast. 

What Else to Spot
  • common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins
  • minke whales (very shy)
  • pilot whales
  • leatherback turtles
  • sometimes sunfish
  • blue sharks; season starts end of June, more reliable to spot them but not predictable
  • seals from mid-May until October

Check out the recent sightings for SW England

Where to Stay

There are many lovely B&B's in Penzance to choose from. Don't come here in a rush and for the basking sharks only. There is so much more like Kynance Cove, St. Michaels Mount, Minack Theatre and the hanging gardens to mention just a view. Our absolutely favorite B&B is the Marine Lodge. The view alone is worth to stay here. The Marine Lodge is spotlessly clean with wonderful owners. You couldn't wish for better.

Where and Tips

Penzance, Cornwall, UK
United Kingdom

Cornwall is a hotspot for basking sharks and they first turn up here. The migration follows the coastline and passes Land's End in spring. They are attracted by the high plankton concentration. With a high concentration of plankton, the sear appears green. Several operators organize snorkeling trips with Basking Sharks. The visibility in the sea is between 7-20 meters and much better in Cornwall than in Scotland. However, with swell, it's difficult to spot them, and the visibility is quite bad.

basking sharks tour on a rough day - lighthouse

Quick Facts About the Basking Sharks
  • They are feeding half a ton of plankton
  • The liver has the size of a car
  • They were hunted almost to extinction for their liver to get the valuable oil and the fins
  • It is the second largest fish in the world after the whale shark and not dangerous
  • Growing up to 12 meters 
  • There is still a lot to discover about them. No one has ever seen one of these sharks mating or giving birth.
Tour Operators
  • Booking sea safaris and snorkeling in Newquay.
  • Booking Atlantic Diving and Basking Sharks snorkel trips located in Newquay.
Nearby Must-Visit Places
  • Minack Theatre; open March-Oct. 9.30 am - 5 pm and Nov.-Feb. 10 - 3.30 pm
    Minack Theatre nearby
  • Lanyon Quoit; It is believed to be the buried chamber of a mound. Location Google Maps
    Lanyon Quoit
  • Men-an-Tol; dated back 3000-4000 years ago. Location Google Maps


(updated by When to be Where)



Stefan did you snorkel with the basking sharks in a dry suit? We already booked this trip with Charles Hood for end of May. I think the water temperature is around 13 degrees. How long did you stay inside of the water? I think it'll be a thrilling experience ;) Thanks for this magnificent idea!

Stefan Bonne

hi Micha, great idea. Snorkeling with a dry suit is almost impossible so a good wet suit will do. Above 10 degrees there should be no problem. Surface conditions can be unpredictable so take a hat and some kind of rain coat along on the boat. Not for the rain but wind can be chilly so a jacket to act like a windstopper is perfect.


We did this trip along the coast twice. It last almost 8 hours and was strenuous due to the swell and we are not used spending such a long time on a RIB. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any shark on both days. It can happen that the plankton subsides one or two meters and the sharks are deeper down not on the surface. The first day we tried to snorkel with seals close to the Longships lighthouse at Land’s End together with three experienced free divers. A current pulled me out into the open sea with waves more than 3 meters high. Even the free divers perceived the challenging conditions. The next day the swell was even stronger and we refused to snorkel with seals again. To be honest, in our opinion it was irresponsible to let us snorkel with such bad conditions. The pictures are by Charles Hood a professional diver with whom we did these two trips.

Stefan Bonne

Hi Micha, quite an adventure you had there in the wild Atlantic Ocean ! It's a pity you didn't see any basking sharks. There is a website of the Shark Trust where you can consult all the sightings and most were in April and the beginning of May. Hope you'll see them next time.

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