Irish Basking Shark Study Group and the IWDG27th May 2010 The Irish Basking Shark Study Group was established in December 2009. It was established to promote the conservation and scientific study of basking sharks in Irish waters by ensuring their protection, increasing awareness and improving our understanding of their ecology and habitat requirements. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are key partners in the IBSSG as we hold the largest database of basking shark sightings in Ireland.
Last year the IBSSG with funding from the Heritage Council started a tagging project using individually numbered coloured tags. This project attempts to understand their numbers, movements, site fidelity and assists in behavioral studies. Last year we deployed 106 tags, mainly in North Donegal and west Kerry and had re-sightings within each site up to 11 days and re-sightings from Scotland of the Donegal tagged sharks.
This season has kicked off with a bang and with further funding from the Heritage Council we are continuing with the tagging project. Over four days off Malin Head we tagged 98 sharks with yellow and white tags and during two days around Baltimore, Co Cork we tagged a further 15 sharks with red tags. We look forward to receiving news of any re-sightings of these tagged sharks and will continue to tag as many as we can over the next 2 months.
In addition to tagging we are collecting slime samples for genetic work. One breakthrough we made last season is that DNA can be extracted from a small sample of slime collected from the sharks body. This was discovered after scraping off a piece of black slime from the front of our boat after being struck by the tail of a basking shark. Uses of this slime range from genetics, to stable isotope analysis to pollution and hormone studies so we hope to develop this technique this season. A presentation on the discovery of this tool can be watched on http://www.sciencegallery.com/tedxdublin
None of this work could be carried out without the IWDG Sighting Scheme. The sighting schemes can now identify where and when sharks will appear on the surface and thus become accessible to researchers. We have been collecting records of basking sharks since the IWDG was formed in 1991 but with the understanding that it was not a core function of the IWDG but as nobody else was collecting these records we would until some other group took this responsibility.
Please look out for tagged basking sharks. Sharks off Donegal are tagged with white and yellow tags, green for Co Kerry and red tags off Co Cork and elsewhere.
The Irish Basking Shark Study Group greatly appreciates the support of the IWDG and shares many supporters. We look forward to progressing our understanding of these magnificent creatures with the IWDG, its supporters and other stakeholders.
Please continue to send basking shark sightings to the IWDG and for more information on basking sharks see www.baskingshark.ie
Dr Simon Berrow