MEMBERS of the public have been urged to respect nature after a basking shark was seen swimming off the county coast.

East Lothian Council's Countryside Rangers put out an appeal to the public after paddleboarders and kayakers were seen approaching the animal.

The basking shark is the second-largest living shark and fish, after the whale shark, and one of three plankton-eating shark species.

It is widespread across the northern Atlantic Ocean and is often spotted close to land - appearing recently off Dunbar's East Beach. 

It has since been spotted by staff at the Scottish Seabird Centre near Craigleith Island off North Berwick.

The National: A basking shark

But officials warned the public about potentially breaking the law when disturbing the animals.

An East Lothian Council Countryside Rangers spokesperson said: "The sighting of a basking shark off the East Lothian coast has understandably created much interest with the public.

"However, we have been made aware that some paddleboarders and kayakers are getting far too close to it, even reaching out to touch it."

They reminded the public of Section 9(4a) of Wildlife and Countryside act 1981 which states: "Any person who intentionally or recklessly disturbs a dolphin, whale, porpoise or basking shark shall be guilty of an offence."

Guidelines on how to behave around the animals were also provided.

• Keep your distance. Avoid getting too close.

• Do not make sudden changes to speed and direction.

• Do not approach from directly in front or behind.

• Do not drive between or scatter groups.

• Do not chase or repeatedly approach individuals.

• Do not box them in.

• Do not swim with them or try to touch or feed them.

• Avoid repeated disturbance; consider staying away if the wildlife has already spent a prolonged period others nearby.

The spokesperson added: "We all need our personal space – so does wildlife.

"Following this advice will help you to remain within the law and reduce the risk of you disturbing whales and dolphins."