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Legislation to Protect Basking Shark Signed into Law from Today

3rd October 2022
Ministers Malcolm Noonan and Charlie McConalogue sign the regulations giving basking shark ‘protected wild animal’ status
Ministers Malcolm Noonan and Charlie McConalogue sign the regulations giving basking shark ‘protected wild animal’ status

Legislation giving the basking shark “protected wild animal” status has been signed into law by two Government ministers.

The move, which was first announced last March, has been made official by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

Noonan said he has made regulations under Section 23(2)(a) of the Wildlife Act 1976, entitled the “Wildlife Act 1976 (Protection of Wild Animals) Regulations 2022.”

The effect of these regulations is to confer “protected wild animal” status on the basking shark under Section 23 of the Act.

Basking shark in Inishtrahull Sound off the coast of DonegalBasking Shark in Inishtrahull Sound off the coast of Donegal

Where an animal is protected under Section 23 of the Act, it is an offence to:

  • Hunt a protected wild animal (unless under permission or licence granted by the department);
  • Injure a protected wild animal (unless done while hunting in accordance with a licence or exemption cited above); or
  • Wilfully interfere with or destroy the breeding or resting places of a protected wild animal.

As the basking shark is a species of fish, under Section 23(3) of the Wildlife Act 1976, Noonan said he may only make such regulations to protect it with the agreement and co-signature of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Two Basking Sharks pass Malin Head on their annual migrationTwo Basking Sharks pass Malin Head on their annual migration

The regulations have legal effect from Monday, October 3rd, 2022.

The basking shark is a globally threatened species which faces a high risk of extinction, Noonan’s department said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies it as ‘endangered’ on its Red List of globally threatened species, with its status changing from “vulnerable” to “endangered” globally in 2019.

Irish waters constitute one of the most internationally important coastal regions for the species.

“Protected wild animal” status will give basking sharks important additional protections and contribute to Ireland meeting its obligations under international law, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said.

It said a code of conduct for the wildlife watching industry is currently being prepared by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to guide responsible and safe interaction with the basking shark in Irish waters.

This code “will ensure that there is strong awareness of and accordance with best practice for operators and the public in observing or encountering marine wildlife such as basking sharks and marine mammals”.

“We are living in an age of mass extinction,” Noonan said.

“ There is an urgent responsibility on all of us to do everything we can to reverse that trend. By strengthening protections for the basking shark, Ireland will play its part in offering improved protection to an endangered species that depends on our territorial waters to survive and flourish,” he said.

“This measure is a first step in additional protections for vulnerable species in Ireland,” he said.

“ My department is working to further strengthen our wildlife laws to ensure that natural habitats are protected and restored and to provide a better balance of safeguards for both marine and terrestrial wildlife,” Noonan added.

McConalogue said he was “ delighted to be introducing this measure”.

“In addition to this measure, my department continues to support conservation efforts for this species through the SeaMonitor project, a transboundary research initiative that is focused on developing research links between Irish marine research teams and our international partners,” McConalogue added.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said work is also underway to review the Wildlife Act, as per the Programme for Government.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

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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 Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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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!