Imagine a fish that is larger than a double decker bus and weighs more than an African elephant, Now Imagine you saw it fly! That’s precisely what the Irish basking shark project tagging team captured on camera off Malin head this week. While most of us were relaxing in the glorious sunshine over the past few days, a shark tagging team have been out searching the coastline off Malin Head for the largest fish in the Atlantic Ocean, the Basking Shark. Weighing in at over nine tons and growing up to 12m in length these sharks are hard to miss!
The Irish shark team is conducting research by tagging these docile giants of the sea, and it was late on Monday night when they witnessed something special, a full breach by a basking shark not once but five times less than a mile from the shore. The team driven by Lough Swilly RNLI helmsman Stephen McGavigan successfully tagged 50 basking sharks, a world first in its self they filmed previously unrecorded behaviour by the sharks including possible courtship between the larger sharks. The Irish basking shark project founded by Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Wale and Dolphin Group and Inishowen local National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger Emmett Johnston was set up to investigate the seasonal movements and population dynamics of the Basking sharks that pass through Irish waters. In 2009 they successfully gained grant aid from the Heritage Council to tag and track basking sharks by visual and satellite aids. They are concentrating on the waters around Malin head, Co. Donegal because it has become a world re-known hot spot for these elusive creatures. In recent years both RTE and BBC film crews have been guided by Ranger Johnston off Malin head to film basking sharks, but nothing like this has ever been recorded in Irish or International waters before.
Extremely little is known about basking sharks, their seasonal and annual movements are a mystery to biologists. Local coastal communities on Inishowen have been assisting the research in the attempt to discover the habits of the world’s second biggest fish. This year’s methodological survey of Inishowen waters combined with the tagging project is hoping to answer some of the puzzles that have eluded marine biologists for centuries. The team has received fantastic support from the local fishing community and would like to thank them all for reporting their sightings: “Without the support of Inishowen’s coastal communities this project would never have happened. Now with the tags deployed we want to encourage anyone who see a shark to report it ASAP by phone or email.”
The team is looking to deploy more visual tags this year and two satellite tags towards the end of the summer to track the winter movements of the sharks.