Group calls for legal protection for “iconic” basking sharks

Training at the Summer Camp.INBM33-12 247JC
Training at the Summer Camp.INBM33-12 247JC

A Donegal-based shark conservation group are preparing a public campaign to call on the Government to legislate for the protection of the basking shark and their habitat within Irish waters.

The call for protection comes on the back of years of research and study on the iconic animals at Malin Head and the Blasket Islands, Kerry.

The Blasket Islands is the constituency of Jimmy Dennihan the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who has “ignored” a request from the conservation group to legislate.

The Irish Basking Shark Study Group have undertaken five years of study on the animals and their findings indicate that Ireland and in particular Malin Head and the Blasket Islands are two of the most important locations for the endangered species throughout the whole Atlantic Ocean.

Historically, the basking shark was important to coastal communities along the western and northern seaboard, especially in Counties Galway, Mayo and Donegal where it was hunted for the oil obtained from its liver. Target fishing for the basking shark was only stopped in EU waters in 2007. They are still fished in international waters for their huge fins which are used to advertise the sale of shark fin soup. Since their founding in Greencastle in 2009, the Irish basking shark study group have encouraged coastal communities to adopt the basking shark as a totem for the wider marine environment and use it for marketing and tourism purposes.

Marine ecologist with the shark group Emmett Johnston said: “Our recent research findings have revealed that Irish waters, in particular the waters around Malin Head, constitute a core surface habitat for the species during summer months. The basking shark is a true oceanic citizen which respects no territorial boundaries, it has a unique place in Irish maritime heritage and we are privileged to have access in Ireland to such an inspiring animal. However with this opportunity also comes a responsibility to ensure its protection and safe passage whilst in Ireland’s waters “.

The basking shark, and their coastal habitats, are awarded full protection under the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act and its equivalent in Northern Ireland, but it has no legal protection in the Republic of Ireland. Ireland is required as a signature of the BONN and OSPAR conventions to legislate for protection of the species but has failed to do so thus far.”

The group is now preparing a public campaign with other Irish and European conservation organisations.