27 June 2011

Basking Shark Hotspot - Isle of Man

Basking Shark © Jane Young/Manx Basking Shark Watch. 
Niki Clear, from the Manx Wildlife Trust has kindly written a blog for the Shark Trust, keeping us up to date on all the latest Basking Shark sightings from the Isle of Man hotspot.
Basking Shark © Niki Clear.
"On Saturday the 11th there were reports of a dead Risso’s dolphin drifting meters from shore off Niarbyl on the west coast of the Isle of Man. When it finally washed ashore in a small cove in the cliffs, it was discovered to in fact be a 7m male Basking Shark! It was badly decomposed, and smelled pretty horrendous to be frank but this did not stop members of DAFF, Manx Basking Sharks Watch, Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch and the Dolphineers (volunteers for MBSW and MWDW) to get stuck into the dissection of this impressive animal. Samples of flesh, skin, teeth, gill rakers, claspers, the entire dorsal fin, and internal organs were collected to be sent away for analysis. There was no obvious cause of death, but a full stomach suggests that this shark was feeding up to the point of death. It may take several months but hopefully the samples collected will shed some light into the life and death of this wonderful but unfortunate basker.  

As for the live sharks here in Manx waters there has been a definite lull in the number of sightings over the last few weeks with only 19 sightings from the 11th to the 21st. But thankfully, on the 22nd they came back with a bang! 93 sightings reported in 3 days mostly along the coast around Peel (on the west coast). On the 23rd, during a chance outing on the tour boat ‘Pegasus’, an amazing 17 sharks were counted at the surface along a 3km stretch north of Peel in the space of an hour. But still the weather is stopping us from getting out on the MBSW boat and getting our shark encounters. Happy Jack has been out 3 days now in the last 2 weeks with no shark sightings, at least porpoise and Minke Whales are keeping us entertained. Fingers crossed for some good sharking weather for tomorrow..."


23 June 2011

Basking Shark Hotspot - Ireland

Basking Shark feeding on plankton soup (c) Nick Massett, skipper on Mhuc mhara, 
Kerry Basking Shark Project research rib.
Lucy Hunt MSc. is a research scientist on the Irish Basking shark Project working on the project in Co. Kerry, SW Ireland. 

"The season started with a bang here in Ireland the first sightings of sharks were back in mid-March when a Basking Shark was spotted off Waterford on St Patrick’s Day! From then on sightings started to trickle in until April when the weather really warmed up and the surrounding waters were full of plankton and shark reports of single sightings were coming in from all over the coastline and larger agglomerations of sharks (up to 100) were reported from NW Donegal and West Kerry, two of the main areas where the Irish basking shark team carry out research! It was just before the May bank holiday when most sharks surfaced and we were in the right place at the right time allowing a lot of our research to take place at the start of the season and keeping us very busy both in Donegal and Kerry.

The Inishowen based team in NW Donegal, led by research scientist Emmett Johnston successfully deployed and recovered the first ever Timed Depth Recorder on a Basking Shark. These sophisticated pieces of modern technology are designed to investigate the basking sharks surfacing habits in Irish and north-eastern Atlantic waters. Developed in Queens University Belfast with financial support from the Inishowen Development Partnership these prototype tags are pushing the limits of marine mega-fauna monitoring technology. The project team aim to record the secretive behaviour of the sharks when out of sight and under the surface.

At the Blasket Islands in Kerry we had a very successful field day with great teamwork from all involved as we deployed over 35 visual tags, obtained 15 shark slime samples for genetic studies, obtained dorsal fin photos for the photo id catalogue and took plankton samples for predator prey analysis as well as in water observations. At least 60 sharks were seen in the waters around the Blasket islands as well as four minke whales and over 20 common dolphins, a fantastic day on the water in Kerry!

* To read more about the field day in Kerry see my article on snorkelling with the basking sharks

Compared to the number of  Basking Shark sighting reports in April (78 reports of >300 sharks) there were only 20 reports of 58 basking sharks in May, this is probably partly due to the weather as it was one of the windiest months of May we have seen in a very long time, hence not so many people out on the coast and also not so conducive to spotting sharks. Most sharks that have been reported are in Donegal, Kerry, Cork and Waterford waters.

So far June has also been quite windy but there have been seven reports of sharks around Cork, Donegal, Mayo, Waterford and Galway. We will have to see what the rest of the month brings and we will keep blogging!

* Find out more about Basking Shark sightings
* Irish Basking Shark Project Website
* Irish Basking Shark Project on Facebook

The Shark Trust

17 June 2011

Basking Shark Hotspot - Isle of Man

Basking Shark © Jane Young/Manx Basking Shark Watch. 
Niki Clear, from the Manx Wildlife Trust has kindly written a blog for the Shark Trust, keeping us up to date on all the latest Basking Shark sightings from the Isle of Man hotspot.

"It is well into the season now but we have only had three sharky days out on MBSW's 'Happy Jack'. Very windy and rough weather all through May prevented us from getting out, and June isn't looking much better. Frustratingly there have been a surprising number of sightings from all over the south of the island despite the weather and rough sea. There have been 232 sightings reported since the beginning of May, a whopping 174 between the 28th May and the 3rd June alone.

Happy Jack’s first day out on the 2nd of June, and what a day. Straight away we sighted our first shark on our way out of the harbour. On the west coast of the island we came across 9 sharks by Fleshwick Bay showing some very interesting behaviour; close following, parallel swimming, circling and tail thrashing for several hours. But it’s gone downhill since then, our second and third day we only managed 3 full shark IDs all from small sharks, below 4m. The sharks have disappeared for the last few weeks, this has happened several years now. We are trying to figure out where they go in the middle of the season; so fingers crossed the sharks reappear along the Manx coast soon so we can get some shark slime.

One of our regular reporters sent us shocking photos of propeller damage to one of our beautiful sharks, highlighting the need for all boats around Basking Shark hotspots to take extra care during the summer season. It’s your responsibility to get out of the basking shark’s way, as it will not get out of yours. This isn’t just an isolated incident, as many of our sharks have horrific injuries on their dorsal fins from collisions with boats."