No swimming!

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TWO finned visitors to Portrush harbour made quite a splash last week when they found themselves the subject of both media interest and environmental protection concerns.

Television, radio and printed media all carried stories on two basking sharks which swam into the top resort last Wednesday much to the delight of local people, some of whom joined them in the water.

But despite the obvious joy the fish brought to the huge crowds who gathered at the quayside, Coleraine Borough Council has warned the public not to swim with the sharks - or risk six months in prison and a £5,000 fine.

The two basking sharks - one large adult around 18ft long and a smaller 12ft baby shark - were first spotted after lunchtime on Wednesday.

A large crowd gathered as word of their arrival spread like wildfire across social networking sites and a number of people got into the water to swim with them including big wave surfer, Al Mennie who paddled alongside the creatures on his ‘SUP’ board.

“I’ve been in the water surfing with blue sharks, porbeagle sharks and even great whites but until today I hadn’t been in the water with a basking shark,” he revealed.

“There were two sharks today in Portrush Harbour as I paddled my sup. One was about 12ft and the other about 18-20ft in length. They were just cruising in the harbour back and forth.

“We supped with them and then put some goggles on and checked them out under water, it was amazing,” he said.

“A few other guys were swimming and supping too and loads of locals were down to check them out. It was a great, great experience to see them.

“They would swim right under us and we were cruising along on sups and they would come up and check us out,” he added.

Fortunately for everyone who didn’t make it down to the quayside, the sharks’ visit was recorded by local business owner, Andy Hill of Troggs Surf Shop, whose photographs and video have attracted thousands of visitors to the firm’s website.

Unknown to everyone, the sharks’ visit - and more particularly the children and adults who got into the water to swim with the creatures - also attracted the attention of Coleraine Borough Council who issued a press release on Friday afternoon warning the public not to approach the creatures.

In the statement, Rachel Bain, Biodiversity Officer said that from August 17 this year, basking sharks were a “fully protected species under amendments to the Wildlife Order.”

“Therefore, any form of disturbance of a basking shark is now an offence, punishable with up to six months in prison and £5,000 fine,” she said.

The statement went on to ask members of the public to report to the police anyone they see “disturbing or harassing a basking shark.”

The warning is based on information gleaned from the Basking Shark Code of Conduct, a poster issued by the Shark’s Trust which warns swimmers and boat users to stay four metres away from any shark and never to touch or flash-photograph it.

The majestic creatures, which are regular visitors to the North Coast from April to September, get their name because they are often seen feeding near the surface of the water and appear to be basking in the sun.