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Basking Shark's Transatlantic Crossing Recorded in New Study

16th November 2019
A feeding basking shark showing the characteristic white gape A feeding basking shark showing the characteristic white gape Photo: jdanchoamia via Flickr

An endangered basking shark showed up off North America three years after it was tagged in Ireland, according to new research published by Irish and Canadian scientists.

A female basking shark which was fitted with a satellite transmitter at Malin Head off north Donegal was photographed off the coast of Cape Cod all of 993 days later.

The study by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Western University, Canada notes this is only the second time that transatlantic movement for the world’s second-biggest fish has been documented.

Basking shark were once hunted off the Mayo coast for their oil, and are now an endangered species risking extinction.

Lead author of the study, QUB PhD student Emmett Johnston has already recorded basking sharks engaged in “bursting” or breaching from the sea of Donegal, and counted some 600 such attempts over a 90-hour period.

"This new evidence offers invaluable information to help us better understand the movements of this endangered species"

The new study, published in the Journal of Fish Biology, noted that the last recorded evidence for transatlantic movement was gathered in 2008 when a female basking shark tagged with a tracking device moved from the Irish Sea to continental waters off the coast of Newfoundland.

“Over 1500 individual sharks have been equipped with either visual identification or satellite tags in the Atlantic to date, leading to just a single record of transoceanic movement, until now,” Mr Johnston said.

“This new evidence offers invaluable information to help us better understand the movements of this endangered species within an international context,” he said.

QUB senior lecturer Dr Jonathon Houghton noted that “for this animal to show up across the ocean three years after it was tagged in Ireland highlights that we really need an international mindset when seeking to conserve this species.”

Co-author of the new study Paul Mensink from Western University said that “in the era of big data”, it was “amazing how much these fortuitous re-sightings of individual animals can tell us about an entire species”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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