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Basking sharks engaged in a courtship ritual, photographed by Mark O'Leary off the coast of Kilkee.

Publicity for basking sharks welcomed after Clare sighting

AN international research group has welcomed the public attention on Basking Sharks in the wake of a viral video shot by divers off Kilkee last week.

The video showed a large group of the giant sharks engaged in a courtship ritual, something that was also observed off Clare’s coast at around the same time last year.

A spokesperson for the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) told The Champion, “Basking sharks frequently occupy Irish waters on and off from April through September. They are known to feed here, and based on instances like those observed last week where they are gathering in big groups, basking sharks likely come to Ireland to court and potentially mate.”

The group’s store of knowledge has been greatly advanced in the last year, often through the help of the general public sending them pictures and reports.

That then allows the multidisciplinary team to square the sightings with any environmental factors that may be bringing the sharks to the area.

“Documenting courtship/mating behaviour is challenging in this species, and so seeing groups off the Clare coast offers really unique insight into where these otherwise globally travelling species may be mating,” the spokesperson added.

“The recent publicity has brought important awareness of this species to communities throughout Ireland and even internationally.”

“We had tremendous support for these animals already, and we have now had an increasing number of people express concern to us about making sure we are all behaving appropriately around them.” – IBSG

“This has led to important conversations about how we can conduct ourselves appropriately and protect this endangered species.”

The group is running an online petition, among much other advocacy work, to obtain legal protection for basking sharks and is inviting members of the public to add their voice (see below).

Among the numerous threats the sharks face are ship strikes, disturbance and harassment.

“Ship strikes are a known source of injury and mortality here, and we hope that protection will not only provide legal support to prevent harmful human-wildlife encounters, but also generally raise awareness about sharks in these waters so folks can be on the lookout when they are at sea,” the spokesperson added.

“Finally, we advocate for the consideration of basking sharks in MPA (marine protected area) discussions in Ireland. That is because we believe that basking sharks deserve not only legal protection for the species, but also a safe environment to thrive in. Effective MPAs will ideally protect basking sharks, but also accommodate stakeholder and community needs.

You can sign the online petition via the following link: https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/provide-legal-protection-for-basking-sharks-in-ireland?fbclid=IwAR0gRep0Iu9T3L-I6AX4mNHouk0RNygv91NDbRomh_l2ya8HNtw1Giyg2ss.

Follow the work of the Irish Basking Shark Group here

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