Basking sharks return to inshore waters 8/04/08

8th Apr 2008 Andrew Malcolm reports on a watch off Ram Head 8th April

There are those days when driving to Ardmore to do an effort watch I get that buzz of anticipation, when I know I'm just going to see cetaceans galore. There is neither rhyme nor reason for it; it's totally a gut feeling. Today was not one of those days. So what happened today just goes to show you shouldn't always trust your instincts!

The conditions were perfect; glass smooth sea, a minimal swell and visibility of at least 20 kilometres. But I still remained fairly confident I wasn't going to see much as this is notoriously “the quiet season”. There seemed to be little in the way of bird activity, although my first swallow of the season drifted past me as I set up the viewing equipment. Last Thursday I had witnessed at least 300 shearwaters as they migrated westwards but I didn't see a single one throughout the period of this second watch in April.

However my lack of confidence was completely misplaced as within 30 seconds of setting up my scope I had my first sighting of a couple of porpoises, then two more, then within 20º of horizon scanned I had seen my next species of the day as a solitary common dolphin hunted for food about 5km offshore. By the end of my first scan across the horizon I had seen a total of 9 porpoises, at least 8 basking sharks and a pod of 40 plus common dolphins!


After a rather protracted effort watch of over 2 hours (the recommended period being 100 minutes) I decided to have one last scan and see if I could get a definitive count of basking sharks, as I had been spotting them sporadically all the way round the horizon from Mine Head to Capel Island.

It was off Mine Head that I saw my fourth species of the day as a minke whale characteristically broke the surface of the water with its nose. As I continued to try and track the whale's illusive progress, I noticed a large splash at the edge of my peripheral vision. I was then incredibly lucky enough to catch full scope a basking shark breaching clear of the water. By this time my stiff back and rumbling stomach told me it really was about time to call this particular effort watch to a halt!

Footnote...

this is the 1st inshore record of basking sharks in Irish waters in 2008. Despite they're being fish, we encourage the public to report any basking shark sightings to IWDG in the same way as cetaceans are reported. Last year IWDG validated a record 122 basking shark sightings from all Irish waters. This data is vital if we are to continue to improve our understanding of the world's 2nd largest fish shark species, and raise their profile. Too date they remain shamefully unprotected in Irish waters and IWDG continue to urge that this situation is addressed.