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Displaying items by tag: basking sharks

More than 100 basking sharks were spotted in the waters off Hook Head in Co Wexford last week as their season for 2022 starts “with a bang”, as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group reports.

A member of the public, Charlie O’Malley observed the massive congregation of the ocean’s second largest fish last Thursday (24 March) just six-to-eight miles southwest of Hook Head.

Not only were they great in number, but in size too — with O’Malley estimating many larger specimens of the marine wildlife giant of over 20ft in length.

“We have no reason to doubt the veracity of this report,” said IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley. “Charlie hails from Achill Island and basking sharks are a species that run in his blood.”

Whooley said this “incredible kick-start” to the 2022 basking shark season follows a “good year” for sightings in 2021, with 161 validated by the IWDG — though the peak was between 2009 and 2011 when an average of more than 200 per annum were validated.

Sightings have also come in from Inis Mór in the Aran Islands and Baltimore in West Cork, and more are expected in the coming weeks — not least because these sharks have been in the news recently owing to their newly gained legal protection under the Wildlife Act, as reported on Afloat.ie.

Listen to to Tom MacSweeney's podcast with IWDG's Simon Berrow and also Charlie O’Malley here

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Basking sharks are to be given protection by the Government under the Wildlife Act, Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan has announced.

The move follows a long campaign by marine scientists, NGOs and school students for protection of Cetorhinus maximus the world’s second-largest shark and fish – known as Liabhán chor gréine, or the “great fish of the sun”.

The number of breeding individuals has been estimated at approximately 8,000-10,000 worldwide, the majority of which are in the north-east Atlantic.

Noonan said that it would be afforded “protected wild animal” status under the Wildlife Act, and this will be supported by development of a code of conduct for sustainable wildlife tourism.

In an open letter last year appealing to the Government for protection of the basking shark, a group of scientists explained that Irish coastal waters are “one of the few places globally” where basking sharks “regularly and predictably occur on the surface close to shore”.

“This surface swimming behaviour is the root of its deep cultural connections with western Irish coastal and island communities,” the scientists said.

“ Current threats to the survival of these magnificent animals include harassment and disturbance, ship collisions, and entanglement,” they stated.

Basking sharks were hunted by the Irish whaling industry in the early 18th century, including off Achill, Co Mayo where thousands of sharks were caught and processed for their liver oil until the 1970s.

“ It may be a surprise for some to hear that it was legal to fish for the basking shark in Irish waters until 2001 and not prohibited in all EU waters until 2006,” the scientists said.

“ Due to these unsustainable practices the shark is now classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered in the northeast Atlantic,” they stated.

Noonan said that work had been underway in his department for a number of months to progress protections for the basking shark.

“ I’m delighted to be able to announce today that they will be finalised in the near future,” Noonan said.

“ Basking sharks are extraordinary creatures and they’re facing increasing pressures from a range of sources, including disturbance,” he said.

“ This move will confer legal protections on them in the short term and enhance their protection in the longer term through the collaborative development of a Code of Conduct to support best practice in sustainable eco tourism,” he said.

He paid tribute to colleagues Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney “for their support in progressing this important work.

Noonan also thanked “the many members of the public – particularly the young children – who have been so passionate in calling for basking shark protection”.

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien said that “marine protection is a vital element of the work we do in this department”.

He said that “strong progress is being made in that regard, particularly on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which will form a crucial pillar in ensuring that we have a clean, healthy, diverse and sustainably used marine environment.”

Under Section 23(2)(a) of the Wildlife Act 1976, it is an offence to:

hunt a protected wild animal (unless under permission or licence granted by my 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.

The two ministers said the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be engaging with the marine eco-tourism, recreation at sea and wildlife watching industries, as well as environmental NGOs, to develop a code of conduct.

This aims to 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, as well as other species of fish, marine mammals and birds”, they said.

Noonan also indicated his intention to “progress the Programme for Government commitment to review the Wildlife Act”.

This will involve a detailed examination of protections and provisions in the Act, enabling a broader consideration of its effectiveness, he said.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Ten to twenty per cent of the world's basking sharks are in Irish waters year-round. Because of this an international consortium of leading scientists and conservation organisations has today called on the Irish Government to provide legal protection for them.

"Ireland needs to do this," according to Dr Emmett Johnston, Founder Member of the Irish Basking Shark Group which has made the call on World Oceans Day. "The scientific community have given their full support to list the basking shark under the Wildlife Act. Now is the right time to protect them and their habitats. Irish coastal waters are one of the few places globally that basking sharks regularly and predictably occur on the surface close to shore.

As Afloat reported earlier, the number of breeding individuals has been estimated at approximately 8,000-10,000 worldwide, most of which are in the northeast Atlantic.

On Tom MacSweeney's Maritime Ireland Radio Show another Founder/Member of the Group, Dr Simon Berrow, who is also CEO of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said that during the Summer months basking sharks also suffer harassment and disturbance from boats, jet skis, divers and snorkelers.

Listen to Dr. Berrow here

Published in Sharks
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More than 2,000 people have already signed an online petition in support of legal protection for basking sharks in Irish waters.

The appeal was started by Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to encourage TDs to support The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled last week by Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the bill would make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure, disturb or harass the second-largest fish in the world’s oceans.

While basking sharks are an endangered species, they are currently not afforded the same protections in law as whales, dolphins, porpoise and seals in Irish waters.

Berrow says: "Ireland and our coastal communities have historically benefited from basking shark fisheries and today we have a duty to provide protection for this highly mobile species when they occupy Irish territorial waters."

He adds: "Adding the species to Schedule Five of the Wildlife Act (1976) as amended is the simplest method to provide protection for the species in Irish territorial waters."

Find the petition at MyUplift HERE.

Published in Sharks
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A Wicklow TD with a background in fisheries science and environmental law has introduced a bill that would afford stronger protections to basking sharks in Irish waters, as TheJournal.ie reports.

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2021 tabled by Dáil deputy Jennifer Whitmore of the Social Democrats would make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure, disturb or harass the second-largest fish in the world’s oceans.

Experts estimate that as much as one-fifth of the global population of basking sharks may be found in Irish waters, though remarkably little is known about their lives — something researchers from Trinity have set out to discover by tagging a number of them off West Cork.

“We have a deep cultural connection to this animal and it is often a symbol of our indigenous maritime life,” Whitmore told the Dáil on Thursday (13 May).

However, the endangered marine wildlife giants are not a protected species in Ireland like cetaceans (dolphins, porpoise and whales) and seals.

TheJournal.ie has more on the story HERE.

Published in Sharks

Researchers from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences were in West Cork earlier this month to tag some of the many basking sharks that have been frequenting our shores — and learn more about the second largest fish in the world’s oceans.

Funded by the Irish Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland, Assistant Professor Nicholas Payne and PhD candidate Haley Dolton spent a week on the water with West Cork Charters in which they managed to apply tags to four basking sharks.

These electronic tags will accumulate data about the sharks’ behaviour and physiology as they move around the coast feeding on plankton.

The goal, the researchers say, is to learn more about the anatomy and physiology of these gentle giants and hopefully guide conservation efforts for this endangered marine wildlife species.

“Basking sharks are a difficult species to study because they are not very abundant and they only grace our shores for a brief period each year, from April to August, so I am delighted we were able to learn so much about them this past week,” said Dr Payne.

Sadly the first phase of the pair’s work involved dissecting the remains of two basking sharks that washed up on the West Cork coast at the end of April, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

“We would rather not have have had the opportunity to examine the two sharks that died prematurely before we took to the sea, but these sad events did at least help us learn more about them,” Dr Payne explained.

“Basking sharks are an endangered species and at risk of death from fishing bycatch and from getting struck by boats, so the more we know about them — especially their behaviour and physiology — the better chance we have of protecting them.

“The experience we had of observing live sharks in all their glory really emphasises that we should do our best to protect these incredible animals.”

Dolton added: “The amount of data we managed to collect throughout the whole week was phenomenal and beyond what I’d hoped for. We are currently analysing all the results and look forward to sharing our findings with everyone later in the year.”

Published in West Cork

The carcass of a second basking shark has washed up on the coast of West Cork just days after the discovery of an unusually fresh specimen 20km away.

According to Cork Beo, the second large fish was found at the weekend near Courtmacsherry and is believed to have been dead for some time.

Another basking shark carcass measuring a whopping seven metres that beached at Inchydoney last week presented a rare opportunity for marine biologists to examine relatively fresh remains.

It’s unknown how the female shark died, but dissection revealed that the marine wildlife giant still had food in its stomach.

“It’s sad of course to see such a big beautiful animal like that, but it’s good to try and get something positive out of it,” Trinity lecturer Dr Nicholas Payne said.

Basking sharks have been spotted in great numbers off West Cork this month, with video of a kayaker surrounded by the second biggest fish in the sea making a splash last week.

Published in West Cork
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Next Tuesday 13 April the Cork Nature Network hosts a free talk in the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, and specifically on the largest fish in the sea.

During this talk, Dr Alina Wieczorek will be presenting her research — being conducted both in Ireland and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean — on microplastic interactions with whale sharks and basking sharks.

She will also share some first insights into how researchers can use scientific findings to inform society and stakeholders to collaboratively find solutions to address environmental issues such as plastic pollution.

Online attendance for ‘Microplastics a Macro-Disaster: A threat to the largest fish of our seas?’ at 7pm next Tuesday 13 April is free, and registration is open now at Eventbrite.

Published in Sharks

Remarkable video of basking sharks engaging in what’s believed to be courtship behaviour has been captured by drone off Co Clare.

As RTÉ News reports, members of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) shot the footage of nine sharks swimming in a circle around their research boat last month.

Basking sharks, the world’s second largest fish species, are typically seen on the surface of Irish inshore waters in the spring, and rarely this late in the year.

“But we realised immediately that they were not feeding,” said Dr Simon Berrow, co-founder of the IBSG and chief executive of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

“This was something else, something special.”

The research team also took the opportunity to collect DNA samples from the massive marine wildlife, which which may reveal if they are genetically distinct from those big fish seen in the same waters earlier in the year.

Published in Sharks

How many basking sharks have reclaimed the waters off the South and West Coasts? “We don’t really know” is the honest answer from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

But after a video of surfers in a close encounter with a school of the marine wildlife giants went viral last week, it’s become clear that the numbers — potentially into the thousands — are remarkable, if not unusual.

Getting a complete picture, however, “would require something like an aerial survey”, says IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

In the meantime, their close proximity to the shore to feed on zooplankton presents “a fantastic opportunity for the members of the public to observe and record their observations to the IWDG, and thus make a real contribution to marine conservation”.

Published in Sharks
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Sharks in Irish waters

Irish waters are home to 71 species of shark, skates and rays, 58 of which have been studied in detail and listed on the Ireland Red List of Cartilaginous fish. Irish sharks range from small Sleeper sharks, Dogfish and Catsharks, to larger species like Frilled, Mackerel and Cow sharks, all the way to the second largest shark in the world, the Basking shark. 

Irish waters provide a refuge for an array of shark species. Tralee Bay, Co. Kerry provides a habitat for several rare and endangered sharks and their relatives, including the migratory tope shark, angel shark and undulate ray. This area is also the last European refuge for the extremely rare white skate. Through a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) project, Marine Institute scientists have been working with fishermen to assess the distribution, diversity, and monthly relative abundance of skates and rays in Tralee, Brandon and Dingle Bays.

“These areas off the southwest coast of Ireland are important internationally as they hold some of the last remaining refuges for angel shark and white skate,” said Dr Maurice Clarke of the Marine Institute. “This EMFF project has provided data confirming the critically endangered status of some species and provides up-to-date information for the development of fishery measures to eliminate by-catch.” 

Irish waters are also home to the Black Mouthed Catshark, Galeus melastomus, one of Ireland’s smallest shark species which can be found in the deep sea along the continental shelf. In 2018, Irish scientists discovered a very rare shark-nursery 200 nautical miles off the west coast by the Marine Institute’s ROV Holland 1 on a shelf sloping to 750 metres deep. 

There are two ways that sharks are born, either as live young or from egg casings. In the ‘case’ of Black Mouthed Catsharks, the nursery discovered in 2018, was notable by the abundance of egg casings or ‘mermaid’s purses’. Many sharks, rays and skate lay eggs, the cases of which often wash ashore. If you find an egg casing along the seashore, take a photo for Purse Search Ireland, a citizen science project focusing on monitoring the shark, ray and skate species around Ireland.

Another species also found by Irish scientists using the ROV Holland 1 in 2018 was a very rare type of dogfish, the Sail Fin Rough Shark, Oxynotus paradoxus. These sharks are named after their long fins which resemble the trailing sails of a boat, and live in the deep sea in waters up to 750m deep. Like all sharks, skates and rays, they have no bones. Their skeleton is composed of cartilage, much like what our noses and ears are made from! This material is much more flexible and lighter than bone which is perfect for these animals living without the weight of gravity.

Throughout history sharks have been portrayed as the monsters of the sea, a concept that science is continuously debunking. Basking sharks were named in 1765 as Cetorhinus maximus, roughly translated to the ‘big-nosed sea monster’. Basking sharks are filter feeders, often swimming with their mouths agape, they filter plankton from the water.

They are very slow moving and like to bask in the sun in shallow water and are often seen in Irish waters around Spring and early Summer. To help understand the migration of these animals to be better able to understand and conserve these species, the Irish Basking Shark Group have tagged and mapped their travels.

Remarkably, many sharks like the Angel Shark, Squatina squatina have the ability to sense electricity. They do this via small pores in their skin called the ‘Ampullae of Lorenzini’ which are able to detect the tiny electrical impulses of a fish breathing, moving or even its heartbeat from distances of over a kilometre! Angel sharks, often referred to as Monkfish have a distinctively angelic shape, with flattened, large fins appearing like the wings of an angel. They live on the seafloor in the coastal waters of Ireland and much like a cat are nocturnal, primarily active at night.

The intricate complexity of shark adaptations is particularly noticeable in the texture of their skin. Composed of miniscule, perfectly shaped overlapping scales, the skin of shark provides them with protection. Often shark scales have been compared to teeth due to their hard enamel structure. They are strong, but also due to their intricate shape, these scales reduce drag and allow water to glide past them so that the shark can swim more effortlessly and silently. This natural flawless design has been used as inspiration for new neoprene fabric designs to help swimmers glide through the water. Although all sharks have this feature, the Leafscale Gulper Shark, Centrophorus squamosus, found in Ireland are specifically named due to the ornate leaf-shape of their scales.

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