Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Displaying items by tag: basking shark

The sighting of a big number of basking sharks off Hook Head is “an incredible start” to the 2022 basking shark season, according to the Irish Basking Shark Group.

It is one of a number of sightings in the past week, reported from the Aran Islands and from Baltimore in West Cork. For several years the first sightings of the year have been reported in March, some even as early as February, more regularly in April. As well as Cork and Galway sightings of early arrivals have previously been noted in Kerry, Donegal and Waterford.

Historically, basking sharks were hunted along the West Coast of Ireland. According to records 12,000 of the sharks were killed close to Achill Head.

basking shark sightings

The sighting off Hook Head is of particular interest to the Irish Basking Shark Group because of the numbers. It was reported by Charlie O’Malley on March 24 - six to eight nautical miles off the Hook. He estimated there were between 100 and 150.

Because of their declining numbers, basking sharks are to be protected in Irish waters under the Wildlife Act.

Listen to my Podcast here for more details of the Hook Head sighting.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tagged under

Queen’s University Belfast has released new research which has revealed that basking sharks overwintering in tropical waters off Africa experience cooler temperatures than those remaining in Ireland. The research, published in Environmental Biology of Fishes 2022, provides evidence to challenge previous assumptions that their disappearance from Irish coastal waters was linked to their search for warmer waters.

The research team equipped four basking sharks with pop-off archival satellite tags off Malin Head, County Donegal to record water temperature, depth and location over a six-month period.

Basking sharks are a regular visitor to Ireland’s shores in summer months. It has been widely believed that basking sharks prefer the warmer waters and that their seasonal disappearance is linked to falling water temperatures. Through the tracking devices, the research team discovered that two of the sharks travelled vast distances to the subtropical and tropical waters off Africa whilst the others remained in Irish coastal waters throughout the winter. The sharks off the coast of Africa experienced colder temperatures daily than the sharks that resided in Ireland, suggesting that they didn’t move south simply in search of warmer conditions. The cooler temperatures experienced off Africa resulted from the sharks diving each day to depths of up to 600m, most likely in search of prey.

Dr Emmett Johnston, Lead Author from the School of Biological Sciences at QUB said: “Our findings challenge the idea of temperature as the main reason for winter dispersal from Ireland. Likewise, further evidence of individual basking sharks occupying Irish coastal waters year-round has significant implications for national and European conservation efforts. Now we know that basking sharks are foraging at these depths, it shows that these habitats should be considered alongside coastal hotspots in future conservation efforts.”

And Dr Jonathan Houghton, Co-author from Queen’s, added: “This study tempts us to think about basking sharks as an oceanic species that aggregates in coastal hotspots for several months of the year (most likely for reproduction), rather than a coastal species that reluctantly heads out into the ocean when decreasing water temperatures force them to.”

Co-author, Dr Paul Mensink from Western University, Ontario, added: “Our findings highlight the need to understand the role of deep, offshore foraging habitats for a species so commonly sighted just a few metres from our shores.”

The international team will continue to monitor basking sharks as part of the EUSeaMonitor project to help inform and develop a collective conservation strategy for wide ranging species that have inhabited our waters for millennia.

Published in Marine Wildlife

A group of international scientists is marking world ocean day by calling for legal protection of the basking shark in Irish waters.

Ireland has a global responsibility to protect the world’s second-largest shark and fish – known as Liabhán chor gréine, or the “great fish of the sun” – the scientists state.

In an open letter appealing to the Government, the scientists explain 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 say.

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

The scientists believe section 23 of the Wildlife Act should be amended to protect the endangered species.

They explain that emerging scientific evidence indicates Irish territorial waters host a large proportion of the global population. Yet, Ireland is “one of the few remaining nations in the north-east Atlantic that have not provided domestic legal protection” for them.

“ While there is a moratorium on deliberately fishing for or landing the basking shark, significant challenges remain,” they state.

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

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 say.

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

The basking shark was added to the Convention on Trade In Endangered Species (CITES) in 2003 and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in 2005.

The scientists have initiated a petition to back their call. Social Democrat TD for Wicklow Dr Jennifer Whitmore has initiated a bill in the Dáil seeking to amend the Wildlife Act to protect the species.

Irish Basking Shark Group founding member Dr Emmett Johnston said “we are privileged to have such a wonderful animal frequenting our waters, which are some of the most important globally for this endangered species”.

“The scientific community have given their full support to list the basking shark under Section 23 of the Wildlife Act, now is the right time to protect them and their habitats”

Signatories include with Dr Johnston include fellow basking shark group founding member Dr Simon Berrow, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology; Dr. Phillip Doherty, University of Exeter; Dr Kevin Flannery, Irish Elasmobranch Group; Pádraic Fogarty, Irish Wildlife Trust; Sarah Fowler, European Elasmobranch Group; Chelsea Grey, Dr Paul Mayo, Dr Donal Griffin, Alex McInturf, Heather Vance and Dr Natasha Phillips of the Irish Basking Shark Group; Jackie and Graham Hall, members of Manx Basking Shark Watch.

Also signatories are Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust; Ali Hood, Shark Trust UK; Dr Jonathan Houghton, Queens University Belfast; Dr Peter Klimley, University of California, USA; Heidi McIlvenny, Ulster Wildlife Trust; Dr Paul Mensink, Western University, Canada; Dr Nicholas L. Payne, Trinity College Dublin; Professor David Sims, Marine Biological Association of the UK; Padraig Whooley, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group; and Dr Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter.

Sign the petition here

Published in Sharks
Tagged under

Basking sharks should be given legal protection under the Irish Wildlife Act, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group's Chief Executive says.

They are protected in the UK, including Northern Ireland and around the isle of Man.

Protection within 12 nautical miles by being listed on the Fifth Schedule of the Wildlife Act would assist in ensuring "these wonderful animals from the deep are protected in Irish coastal waters to ensure they continue to visit our waters for generations to come," says Dr. Simon Berrow, speaking on the radio programme and Podcast, Maritime Ireland Radio Show.

The first sightings of what are known as 'Liadhán chor gréine' or the 'Great Fish of the Sun' have been reported to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group this year.

And as Afloat reports two Basking Sharks have been washed up on the West Cork Coast within days. 

The IWDG runs the basking shark sighting scheme on behalf of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) which has also called for the protection of the species.

Listen to Dr Simon Berrow below

Published in Sharks
Tagged under

Basking sharks which were sampled off the west Kerry coast in early Spring have proved to be genetically different to all other such sharks tested in the north-east Atlantic, according to a newly published study writes Lorna Siggins.

The study on the migration routes of basking sharks also shows that the animals prefer to swim “en famille” to known feeding locations.

Researchers from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) participated in one of the most comprehensive studies of the genetics of one of the world’s largest fish.

The project findings, led by the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, were published this week in the journal, Scientific Reports.

Hunted off the south Irish coast by Norwegians until the 1980s, and off the west coast for the Achill fishery in the 1950s and 1960s, the basking shark is known among coastal communities as the “sunfish” due to its preference for swimming just below the surface.

Two Basking Sharks Image Nigel MoyterTwo Basking Sharks Photo: Nigel Moyter

It is also known as “liop an dá” (unwieldy beast with two fins) or more generally “liabhán mór”, denoting a great leviathan.

It is protected in some waters and was recently classified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature “red list” for endangered species

The plankton-eating fish is distinctive for its open mouth. It has been estimated that a seven-metre shark, cruising wide-mouthed at a speed of two knots, will filter 1,484 cubic metres of sea-water per hour.

Basking sharks can grow to more than ten metres, can dive to depths of more than a thousand metres, and feed on plankton in areas of the northeast Atlantic including the west coast of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The researchers note that “up until recently very little was known” about their biology, as they only appear briefly at the sea surface each spring before “vanishing into the ocean depths”.

Through establishing a register of genetic profiles with regular swabbing, the researchers were able to identify individual basking sharks when they arrived to feed. The results revealed that the fish repeatedly returned to the same feeding sites in successive years.

Fieldwork off Donegal by GMIT’s Dr Simon Berrow and Emmet Johnston of the Irish Basking Shark Study Group led to a “breakthrough” in sampling, by collecting skin mucus samples in large groups of sharks - quickly, and with minimum disturbance.

The researchers say that one of the “most surprising” findings among the “cosmopolitan” filter feeders is that basking sharks sampled off Ireland in spring were genetically distinct from other north-east Atlantic fish, including those sampled later in the year off Co Donegal.

Published in Sharks

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 Sharks
Tagged under

Cork RS dinghy sailors Alex Barry, Sandy Rimmington and Andrew Welland shot some great video swimming off Roches Point, Cork Harbour up close and personal with some massive basking sharks. The footage (below)  shows the plankton–only eating creatures feeding while the sailors swim around them. In a weekend of marine wildlife spottings there was sightings of breeching humpback whales off the Cork and Kerry coasts too.


Swimming with #basking sharks in #cork Harbour

A video posted by Afloat Magazine ( on


Swimming with #basking sharks Cork Harbour

A video posted by Afloat Magazine ( on

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

Port of Cork posted this picture of the 'biggest' basking shark in Cork Harbour today, presumably enjoying #corkharbourfest16 that includes the Ocean to City race.

Published in Cork Harbour

#MarineWildlife - Do you remember the basking shark that surprised a group of bathers off Cape Clear last summer?

According to, it's now featured in a documentary shot on the fly by a team of quick-thinking filmmakers.

Aonrú, a film funded by Cork County Council and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, tackles the delicate subject of the West Cork island's future after the decline of the regional fishing industry.

But in the process of filming, they happened to be close by when the basking shark - the second-largest fish in the oceans – made its appearance, the solitary beast almost a metaphor for the island's dwindling community. has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - An angling kayaker has spoken of his surprise at being "stalked" by a basking shark off Donegal.

The Irish Times yesterday posted video of the close encounter captured by Graham Smith while paddling along the coast.

As Smith told the Irish Independent, he was only hoping to catch a tope shark when he came upon a school of basking sharks off the Inishowen Peninsula.

And when one of them started following him, Smith went into panic mode - but soon realised the shark was more interested in the slipstream of his kayak, which provided a steady source of plankton for the giant filter feeder.

The second biggest fish in the sea after the whale shark, basking sharks are now a regular sight in Irish waters, with protections on the endangered species resulting in a boom in numbers.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Page 1 of 2

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Associations

isora sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Events 2022

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton
quantum sidebutton
watson sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
wavelengths sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating