23 June 2011

Basking Shark Hotspot - Ireland

Basking Shark feeding on plankton soup (c) Nick Massett, skipper on Mhuc mhara, 
Kerry Basking Shark Project research rib.
Lucy Hunt MSc. is a research scientist on the Irish Basking shark Project working on the project in Co. Kerry, SW Ireland. 

"The season started with a bang here in Ireland the first sightings of sharks were back in mid-March when a Basking Shark was spotted off Waterford on St Patrick’s Day! From then on sightings started to trickle in until April when the weather really warmed up and the surrounding waters were full of plankton and shark reports of single sightings were coming in from all over the coastline and larger agglomerations of sharks (up to 100) were reported from NW Donegal and West Kerry, two of the main areas where the Irish basking shark team carry out research! It was just before the May bank holiday when most sharks surfaced and we were in the right place at the right time allowing a lot of our research to take place at the start of the season and keeping us very busy both in Donegal and Kerry.

The Inishowen based team in NW Donegal, led by research scientist Emmett Johnston successfully deployed and recovered the first ever Timed Depth Recorder on a Basking Shark. These sophisticated pieces of modern technology are designed to investigate the basking sharks surfacing habits in Irish and north-eastern Atlantic waters. Developed in Queens University Belfast with financial support from the Inishowen Development Partnership these prototype tags are pushing the limits of marine mega-fauna monitoring technology. The project team aim to record the secretive behaviour of the sharks when out of sight and under the surface.

At the Blasket Islands in Kerry we had a very successful field day with great teamwork from all involved as we deployed over 35 visual tags, obtained 15 shark slime samples for genetic studies, obtained dorsal fin photos for the photo id catalogue and took plankton samples for predator prey analysis as well as in water observations. At least 60 sharks were seen in the waters around the Blasket islands as well as four minke whales and over 20 common dolphins, a fantastic day on the water in Kerry!

* To read more about the field day in Kerry see my article on snorkelling with the basking sharks

Compared to the number of  Basking Shark sighting reports in April (78 reports of >300 sharks) there were only 20 reports of 58 basking sharks in May, this is probably partly due to the weather as it was one of the windiest months of May we have seen in a very long time, hence not so many people out on the coast and also not so conducive to spotting sharks. Most sharks that have been reported are in Donegal, Kerry, Cork and Waterford waters.

So far June has also been quite windy but there have been seven reports of sharks around Cork, Donegal, Mayo, Waterford and Galway. We will have to see what the rest of the month brings and we will keep blogging!

* Find out more about Basking Shark sightings
* Irish Basking Shark Project Website
* Irish Basking Shark Project on Facebook

The Shark Trust