The Basking Shark (Selache Maxima) is of far greater importance commercially than any of the species already mentioned, but from the angler's standpoint it is a useless creature. It affords sport nevertheless, being easily captured with the whaler's weapons. Its name is probably derived from its habit of lying quietly near the surface of the water. Sometimes it swims about with its dorsal fin well in view, and hence also gets the name of sail-fish. Off the Irish and Welsh coasts large numbers are sometimes seen and harpooned. Lowe gives an account of a basking shark which paid a visit to Stromness Harbour one day. It cruised about, from time to time showing its back fin, and occasionally a large portion of its body, above the surface. It seemed to take no heed of the boats which came near it. In the end it was harpooned and lanced. It measured twenty-three feet, and six barrels of oil, which is of considerable value for commercial purposes, were obtained from its liver. Another very large shark was caught off the Isle of Wight. It measured twenty-eight feet in length, and allowed itself to be dragged ashore. At one time it was an extremely common shark in the seas surrounding the Orkney Islands, but it is now comparatively rare except when some wandering shoal visits the coast. Having regard to the ease with which it is captured, it is a fish likely to be exterminated in due course.
Another shark which is sometimes caught on our coasts is the Porbeagle (Lamna cornubica). In shape it is not unlike the basking shark, being well rounded and portly, but lacks the projecting spotted nose of the basker. In colour it is more often than not a dusky green on the back, lightening to white on the belly. During the summer and autumn porbeagles visit the East coast of England and Wales. They are reputed cunning and fierce, but are occasionally taken on long lines when attempting to rob the hooks of a captured whiting or codling. When one is captured, it is not an uncommon thing to find in its stomach a number of fish-hooks and a spinner or two. In 1881 one of these fish measuring seven and a half feet in length was caught at Wick. A porbeagle of eight and a half feet was once brought into Margate, and one about the same size was captured off Hastings.
Foreign Sharks hardly come within the scope of this portion of the book. How they are taken by the simple method of lowering a huge hook fitted with a chain and swivel and baited with a piece of salt pork is common knowledge. Sailors say that when a vessel is going at any considerable speed it is next to impossible to catch a shark from it. Possibly these cunning creatures know it is not a natural thing for a piece of pork or other bait to be dashing along through the water. They will follow it for some distance, but will not take it until it is eased off to them, when it has the appearance of something which has fallen from the vessel and is being left far astern. Very often sharks are accompanied by two little pilot fish, which appear to be a kind of an advance guard.