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© Irish Basking Shark Group


2008-2013 | Completed Project



The aim of this study is to provide a new method for large-scale genetic sampling using non-invasive techniques. Such information will yield insight into the population structure of basking sharks around Ireland and has strong potential to be implemented worldwide to examine the global basking shark population. 


During a tagging session off Inishowen, Co. Donegal, the research RIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) Muc Mhara came into the Malin Head harbour. Black slime was observed on the hull; the result of a slap by a basking shark tail during tagging. A sample of this black slime/mucus was taken and sent to Aberdeen University, where researchers determined that DNA could be extracted from this substance. Mucus sampling is now a standard non-invasive technique for collecting samples from basking sharks for genetic work. ​


  • Design and implement a non-invasive genetic sampling technique using mucus found on the exterior of a free-ranging elasmobranch (shark) that could be used in future studies

  • Apply this method to three basking shark hotspots throughout Ireland to assess the genetic structure of the population in Irish waters




This study reported the first successful attempt to collect elasmobranch mucus in the field and demonstrate the potential of mucus swabs to conduct large-scale population-level genetic monitoring of basking sharks. X number of samples were collected at three basking shark hotspots along the Irish coast. Findings from these samples suggest little global population structure and low genetic variability. Further sampling in this manner could assist in identifying key sites and management units (such as different subpopulations) to provide insight into basking shark population dynamics, spatial distribution and social interactions. 


  • Read about the outcome of the study in its scientific journal publication here

  • A TED talk on this research is also available here.  


  • Heritage Council Wildlife Grant

  • MASTS pooling initiative (The Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland) and the Scottish Funding Council


Simon Berrow | Project coordinator

Emmett Johnston | Researcher

Various contributors| Manx Basking Shark Watch, University of Aberdeen, Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom/University of Southampton

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