Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Achill’s Last Hunter of Basking Sharks Welcomes Their Resurgence

6th May 2024
File image of a basking shark in Irish waters
File image of a basking shark in Irish waters Credit: Nigel Motyer

One of Achill Island’s last hunters of basking sharks has welcomed the recent resurgence of the now-protected species, as The Guardian reports.

Brian McNeill once joined the currach crews armed with harpoons who slaughtered hundreds of the marine wildlife giants for their livers and fins, the sale of which made a good living for the Co Mayo islanders and others along the West Coast.

That was until the 1980s, when some three decades of hunts came to an end due to the dwindling numbers of basking sharks in Achill and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast — a situation McNeill blames on harmful salmon trawling practices.

But the endangered fish has rebounded in Irish waters in the 21st century, with this year’s first sighting off the West Coast as early as mid February.

As marine science experts probe the mystery as to their return, basking sharks have also been afforded greater protection by both the Irish and British governments.

And from Achill’s terra firma, Dooagh resident McNeill is more than content to hunt them with his eyes rather than a harpoon.

“It’s lovely to see them,” he says. “I’m just happy that we’re not killing them any more.”

The Guardian has more on the story HERE.

MacDara Conroy

About The Author

MacDara Conroy

Email The Author

MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven't put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full-time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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!