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© Irish Basking Shark Project

SATELLITE TAGS & SHARK SPOTTING

2013 - present | Ongoing

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

Inishowen Basking

Shark Study Group 

Loughs

Agency

Queens University

Belfast

Private Donor

Coastal communities of North Inishowen coast

 

BACKGROUND

Since 2008 the Inishowen Basking Shark Study Group have undertaken numerous internationally significant research projects in the Malin Head and Foyle marine area. These projects have attracted the attention of high profile media, tourism marketing groups and tourism providers (IDP, 2012). The international level of exposure for the Inishowen and Foyle areas resulting from the media coverage of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 shark projects has placed the area on the map of desirable marine tourism destinations internationally (Failte Ireland, 2012).

Previous projects undertaken by this group successfully combined pioneering research, educational programmes and locally-based initiatives. Local stakeholders have been involved in the form of coastal community residents, commercial and leisure fishermen and other marine users, which is essential to the success of marine based projects.

Wildlife Computers SPOT Tag

© E. Johnston 2013

The development of a respectful and informative relationship between all stakeholders has been the foundation for the success of the previous projects delivered by the project teams. However, it is the results from the research undertaken on the species that attracts the high profile media groups. In order to continue to build the established ‘brand’ or image of the Malin marine area it is necessary to continue to undertake significant research, tourism promotion and local awareness initiatives in combination. This project aims to address all three of these essential elements.

 

INTRODUCTION 

Basking sharks are endangered in the northeastern Atlantic but hold differing legislative protective status within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Accordingly, the Loughs Agency is ideally placed to support the project as a multi-state agency, fisheries protection and marine tourism promoter.

 

‘Shark Spotting’ is a basking shark study centred at Malin head and Lough Foyle. The project is co- funded by the Loughs Agency, Queen's University Belfast, Inishowen Basking Shark Study Group and a private donor. The main aim of the study is to investigate the use of the Malin Head shark ‘hotspot’ by basking sharks during 2013. Understanding how sharks use the Malin marine area and the movement of sharks between ‘hotspots’ in the northeast Atlantic is essential for the sustainable management, protection and promotion of the species on both a local and regional scale. More specifically, the data collected will provide information on the local distribution and movements of basking sharks when within northern coastal waters and the waters covered by the Loughs Agency (based around the Lough Foyle catchment).

 

Since 2008, we have established the visual tag mark – recapture method throughout Irish waters. This simple but effective method has highlighted movement trends by sharks within the various identified ‘hotspots’ around our coast. The deployment of large numbers of visual tags in the Malin marine area has in particular illustrated the regular movement of sharks into, within and away from specific coastal sites. In 2009 the IBSSG deployed two wildlife computers PAT tags and in 2012 the IBSSG deployed a five PATF tags to record large scale movements of the sharks during autumn and winter months. The ‘Shark Spotting’ study will build on the group's previous tag deployments and also adopt the excellent results from the SNH sponsored project undertaken by the University of Exeter team on the west coast of Scotland in 2012. To that end we deployed four Wildlife Computers SPOT5 tags on individual sharks in 2013.

 

The use of basking sharks as an indicator species for ocean productivity has often been proposed. The project outlined here will in addition use the study of these animals to identify and investigate areas of significant ecological importance on the north coast of Ireland.

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METHOD 

In 2013, four Wildlife Computers SPOT 5 fast towable tags were deployed in Malin waters during the months of May/ June. Tags are deployed by applicator pole from the bow off of the IBSSG RIB by the researchers. The IBSSG have developed considerable expertise in shark research with over 300 visual and 30 various types of electronic tag deployed in the past four years. The SPOT 5 tags provide position data when the tag is on the surface of the water and makes a number of links with a satellite passing overhead. These satellites are part of the ARGOS satellite network and data is relayed by CLS on a 2-3 day delay.

 

The funders of the 2013 study named the four sharks to carry tags: Foyle, Koisan, Balor and Wyville. Descriptive details of the individual sharks and their movements are available in the Shark Tracker section of the website.

PROJECT TEAM

Emmett Johnston | Project coordinator

Paul Mayo | Researcher

Jonathan Houghton| Scientific oversight