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Irish Shark Hunters Gather

Sunday, 08 November 2009 17:23
Irish Basking shark seminar
Irish Basking shark seminar
(c) Emmett Johnston

The modern day shark hunter might not be seeking the basking shark for its oil or skin but as those attending the first Irish basking shark seminar soon found out, they employ the same age old tactics as the shark hunters of the 18th and 19th centuries. Often times they utilise tiny boats like their historic namesakes to sneak up on these gigantic marine animals which are longer than a Dublin bus and weigh more than an African elephant. You might be glad to hear they no longer use iron harpoons like the historic Achill Island and Donegal bay shark fisheries but the modern hand held spears used to deploy satellite tracking tags and other research equipment are not dissimilar in appearance. Extremely little is known about the elusive basking shark and today's shark biologists must have a steady nerve when trying to conduct research on what is the largest fish in the Atlantic Ocean.  Marine scientists have been puzzled for centuries by the unexplainable behaviour of this animal, which is one of Irelands most iconic marine mega- fauna species.

As most of us where preparing the kids or maybe even our own consumes for Holloween, many Irish and UK based shark conservationists made their way to Greencastle on the shores of Lough Foyle and the Bord Iascaigh Mara, National Fisheries College. This was the chosen location for the Heritage Council supported seminar in which shark hunting, traditional boat building and subsistence fishing was blended with modern biological research in a seamless run of presentations, workshops and movies. The net loft in the Fisheries College was an apt setting for what proved to be a memorable occasion for all those in attendance, many of whom hailed from the nations range of marine biology or fishing organisations.

The seminar helped to cement the developing International reputation of Inishowen and North Donegal as ' shark infested waters'. The audience was presented with research conducted during 2008 and 2009 by the Irish Basking Shark Study Group, which identified Malin Head as one of the top European 'hotspots' for basking sharks.  Attendees were also glad to be the first to learn that Northern Ireland is to enact new environmental legislation and grant legal protection to the basking shark in its territorial waters. This leaves Ireland in the unfortunate position of being one of the last countries in the E.U. where basking sharks are not protected under national legislation. Recent events at Howth harbour, Co. Dublin illustrated the confusion caused by this set of circumstances when a by- caught basking shark was landed and sold illegally due to official ignorance of international restrictions on such occurrences. The gathering successfully brought together the majority of information on basking sharks in Irish waters both historic and modern, including a rare showing of the 1951 film ' Shark Island' by Hugh Falkus which was believed for many years to have been lost or destroyed. The Irish Basking Shark Group who organised the seminar now aims to develop a biodiversity action plan for basking sharks in Irish waters. They believe this is currently the most apt method to develop a political impetus in Ireland for gaining future legal protection out to our 12 nautical mile limit. For further Information log onto www.baskingshark.ie