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Mystery of the basking shark

Basking shark.jpg

By MICHAEL VINEY

ANOTHER LIFE: Arriving once, in innocence and at the wrong or right time (depending on one's sensibilities) at the cliffs above Achill's Keem Bay, I found myself watching the execution of a large basking shark trapped in nets in the water below. As a lance was thrust from the crowding currachs, the scene had little in common with bold battles in wild seas re-enacted for Flaherty's famous "documentary" Man of Aran. Blood trailed briefly through the limpid water as the beast was towed ashore for the great oily liver that made, perhaps, one third of its weight.

Forty years on from the peak of the Achill enterprise that killed 12,342 of the world's second largest fish, Irish marine researchers have had an amazing summer. In forays off Inishowen in Co Donegal and around the Blasket Islands off Kerry, they caught up with no fewer than 101 of the sharks swimming at the surface and reached out from their rib with extendable painter's poles to plant colour- coded tags in the dorsal fins.

Even a decade ago, remarkably little was known about the comings and goings of Cetorhinus maximus.What had been sorted out was its maximum size (rarely more than 10 metres) and phenomenal, open- mouthed throughput of ocean (nearly 1,500 cubic metres every hour) to gulp the pink-centred zooplankton, Calanus, that fills its stomach with something like tomato ketchup.

The big mystery was where the animals went in winter.....

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Michael Viney welcomes observations at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo. E-mail : viney@anu.ie Include a postal address

Originally published by MICHAEL VINEY.

(c) 2009 Irish Times.





Jem Casey

A young basking shark was discovered caught in fishing net along Derrynane Long Beach in south-west Kerry.

The rare basking shark was found dead by locals Peter Sweeney, a photographer, and his friend Chris Gleeson on Sunday evening.

It is believed to have been an accidental "by-catch" by a fishing boat which died out at sea and was washed ashore where it was discovered.

The basking shark along with the great white shark are classed as vulnerable to extinction. The 1933 film Man of Aran by the American filmmaker  Robert Flaherty celebrated a hunt for the basking shark and was part of Hollywood's long infatuation with sharks and their supposed threat to man. The lastest of course was Jaws. In fact most sharks are harmless, especially the basking shark which does not even have teeth but filterfeeds. 

Basking sharks were once very common off Ireland but are rarely seen anymore

A major international campaign is now underway to protect sharks from commercial fishing. Some 70,000 sharks are taken from the world's waters eveyr year just for their fins which fetch $300 a pound, making them more expensive than caviar.

The sadndiscovery of a dead basking shark off Ireland  follows unusual events along the coast of Kerry where several bottlenose dolphins have died in Tralee Bay. A dead animal was also found floating off Fenit, while there was also another stranding off Camp.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) is appealing for any reports on stranded dolphins in the Kerry area, following the unusual sequence of marine mammal beachings over the last few days.

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