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A basking shark spotted off the coast of County Cork during research conducted by the IBSG. Image: A. McInturf

Growing up to 12m and weighing up to 4 tonnes, the largest fish in Irish waters was today given full legal protection. This landmark decision protects the shark and its habitat in one of the most globally important areas for this endangered species.

After 15 years of research, education and advocacy, the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) are celebrating this significant achievement in Irish marine conservation, with the announcement that basking sharks are now protected in Irish waters under the Wildlife Act.

ISBG spokesperson Dr. Donal Griffin says, “It's been many years in the making but we are delighted to finally see the basking shark given this protection. This iconic species is strongly associated with Ireland, as a globally important location for this endangered species”.

Today the Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan, alongside Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, added the basking shark to the list of protected species under Section 23 of the Wildlife Act. Basking sharks now enjoy legal protection in Irish waters from hunting (unless under permission or license), injury and wilful destruction of their breeding and resting places.

The IBSG is excited by the success of their ‘Save our Shark’ campaign, supported by an international community of shark scientists, TD Jennifer Whitmore of the Social Democrats and over 12,000 members of the public who signed the online petition. This campaign showcased the shift of hearts and minds to consider basking sharks as ‘wildlife’ and not simply a fish species with no allocated fishing quota.

Basking sharks are often seen feeding together in Irish waters. Image: A. McInturf

As a result of the group's efforts, Irish waters are now internationally recognised as providing globally important habitat for the basking shark. Large numbers of these sharks are encountered feeding along our coasts during summer and, more recently noted, courting during autumn months. According to Dr. Simon Berrow, co-founder of the IBSG, “Unfortunately, during the summer, unintentional harassment and disturbance of basking sharks is a growing problem. It is our duty to do all we can to protect them while they are feeding and courting in Irish waters and are under our charge. This is why legal protection and the proposed code of conduct are so necessary because they make the disturbance and harassment of basking sharks illegal from now on.”

Dr. Alex McInturf, co-coordinator of the IBSG, says, “It is estimated that Irish waters host in the range of 10-20% of the global population of this shark species year-round. The news today, that Minister Noonan has conferred legal protection on basking sharks, is so encouraging for the conservation of this species, which is classified as globally Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.”

The recognition of basking sharks as ‘wildlife’ today is significant because for the first time, it opens the door for endangered shark species to benefit from conservation legislation. Sharks play crucial roles in the marine and coastal ecosystems that humans depend on for their livelihoods and food security. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List highlights that one third of all known species of sharks and their relatives are considered threatened with extinction. Ireland, as an island nation, is host to many such species with several listed as critically endangered or endangered globally.

Dr. Griffin delivers a petition, signed by 8,000 members of the public, to Dublin during the Save Our Shark campaign. The petition was later signed by an additional 4,000 people in support of basking shark protection in Ireland.

“This isn’t the end of the IBSG’s campaign to conserve and protect basking sharks in Irish waters, with our thoughts turning next to how best to protect these animals in Ireland’s expanding Marine Protected Area network. But, their legal protection is a huge cause for celebration,” says Dr. Donal Griffin.

The IBSG would like to thank Minister Noonan, Minister McConalogue, Jennifer Whitmore TD and all our thousands of campaign supporters over the past 18 months who have helped make this happen.

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