THIS is the incredible moment a huge shark stunned sightseers by leaping clear out of the water off the coast of Dorset.

The thresher shark jumped vertically through the air before slapping its elongated tail on the surface of the sea at Lyme Bay.

Thresher sharks are usually found in the warmer waters of the mid-Atlantic but this 15ft long predator, which weighed about 350lbs, appeared about 30 miles south of Lyme Regis.

The hugely-rare sight was witnessed by a group of 10 nature lovers on a charter boat looking for dolphins.

Quick-thinking tour guide Dr Tom Brereton, from Bridport, grabbed his camera from the wheelhouse in the nick of time to capture the moment.

Bournemouth Echo:

Picture: TomBrereton/BNPS

Luckily he managed to take two pin-sharp frames of the predator jumping fully out of the water with its nose pointing skywards.

Dr Brereton, of Naturetrek, which organised the tour, said: "We were on a Naturetrek wildlife trip into Lyme Bay looking for dolphins, whales and seabirds.

"It has already been an interesting year in Lyme Bay with sightings of minke whale, Risso's dolphin, basking shark and ocean sunfish as well as the more usual common and bottlenose dolphins, so expectations were high.

"Then in the deeper waters I saw a big animal leaping clear of the water 200 metres ahead of the ship.

"Assuming it was a bottlenose dolphin I alerted the group.

"It jumped out again and our skipper, Ross Parham, who is a keen fishermen, immediately identified it as a thresher shark.

"I hastily went into the wheelhouse to get my camera and the shark continued to jump clear of the water right beside the boat giving awesome views to everyone on the boat.

"Seeing the shark leap out of the water really was a surreal and breathtaking experience.

Bournemouth Echo:

Picture: TomBrereton/BNPS

"I just had time to take two pictures and luckily managed to get some great shots.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"It was a very big fish, probably around 15 feet long and weighing more than 350lbs."

Ross Parham, the skipper of the charter boat Spot On, based in Brixham, Devon, said the sighting was incredibly rare.

He said: "I have seen three thresher sharks leaping out of the water in the 25 years I have been at sea but the other two weren't as big as this one.

"It was pretty much just having fun, leaping clear out of the water, it had no style of grace to it."

Dr Brereton, who is also a research director Marinelife, said the shark was spotted in an area where the conservation charity has proposed a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ), to protect the rare white-beaked dolphins in the English Channel.

Thresher sharks - Alopias pelagicus in Latin - are so named because of their exceptionally long, stream-lined tails which whip or stun shoals of fish underwater at a speed of up to 30mph

They are not normally harmful to humans, although they can cause serious injury with their thrashing tails.

They are an endangered species and are on the Red List of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) List of Threatened Species due to commercial fishing for their meat.

The biggest thresher shark caught in UK waters is about 350lbs by angler Wayne Comben off the Isle of Wight last year. It was not an official record as he released it.

The biggest thresher shark caught in the world on rod and line is one that weighed 767lbs off New Zealand in 1983.