2011 Basking shark season begins....UPDATES

24th Mar 2011 Report IV , 24/03/11 18:00pm

Well it's clear that no one's record of the first basking shark of 2011 seems capable of standing for more than a few hours, before somebody claims an even earlier record. And so the Irish Navy's record from offshore Waterford on 17th March which stood for a mere 24 hours, before an entry on IWDG Facebook page by a Hannah Keogh from Wicklow caught our eye.

It transpires that Hannah is involved with the Manx Basking Shark Watch Group, and it was her sister Lucille who saw the shark on March 16th off Kilcoole. This sighting has been validated and is now the 1st record of 2011. It's an important sighting, because this species went almost unrecorded along the Irish Eastern seaboard in 2010, with just one of 200 records being off Co. Dublin, and a small handful off the mouth of Strangford Lough, Co. Down.

This raises many interesting questions? For instance, how come the lsle of Man, only 70 miles from Dublin and 36 miles from Co. Down, is one of the world's acknowledged basking shark hotspots, yet this ocean wanderer seems not to venture such a short distance west towards the Irish east coast? Their absence can hardly be explained by lack of observer effort, as the east coast enjoyed record sightings of cetaceans in 2010. Answers, opinions or thoughts on a post card!

Report III , 23/03/11 12:00pm

Well it seems that neither Nick nor Andrew can claim the 1st Irish basking shark of the year, as IWDG have just received and validated a report from Lieutenant NS Phil Dicker, Fishery Officer, LE Roisin, who reports another shark, a very large 6-7m specimen, some 10-12 miles offshore of Tramore, Co. Waterford. Interestingly, at the time of the sighting the Irish Naval Service were sampling an algae bloom.

We note with interest that our colleagues across the water at the Seaquest Basking Shark Project and Cornwall Wildlife Trust have just issued press releases relating to their 1st basking shark sighting of 2011 in UK waters, which was on 20th March. So, this latest Irish sighting from 17th March is three days earlier than this UK record, which is of interest as it shows a similar inshore movement in both countries. Thanks to everyone for reporting their cetacean and basking shark sightings to IWDG.


Report II , 22/03/11 13:00pm

Well they say one swallow doesn't make a summer, but we feel two basking shark sightings on the same day, at two sites definitely mark the start of the shark season. Within 3 hours of Nick Massett's report below, Andrew Malcolm has just reported his first basking shark in perfectly calm conditions c3-4 miles to the Southeast of Ram Hd., Ardmore, Co. Waterford. The two sites are 160 miles apart. Is this a remarkable coincidence, or another example of the how public sighting schemes can detect changes in species' distribution.


Report 1, 22/03/11 10:00am

The 1st confirmed basking shark Cetorhinus maximus sighting of the year reported to IWDG heralds the start of what we hope will be a good year for the planet's second largest shark and fish species. The sighting was made this morning 22nd March by Nick Massett off Slea Head, Co. Kerry during a land-based effort watch, which produced a single shark about 1.5 miles offshore among large numbers of seabirds.

The arrival of basking sharks into inshore waters as early as March has been documented now in 6 of the past 8 years, so it comes as little surprise that the recent high pressure has once again produced the 1st shark sighting of the year. The longer days and sun's increased intensity during spring create the conditions that produce phyto-plankton blooms, which kick-start the marine food chain, and herald the arrival of this mega-grazer.

Basking shark, Blasket Islands May 2008 © Nick Massett

Up to relatively recently, Ireland produced low numbers of basking shark sightings. Be