First sighting of Basking Shark in Ireland 2019 season
First Sighting of Basking Sharks Ireland 2019 Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours
They're back! The dolphin and whale watching tour boat M.V. "Blasket Princess" spotted the first basking shark in Irish waters of the 2019 season in Dingle Bay today 07.04.2019 on the way out to the Great Blasket Island for the beginning of the Afternoon Tour departing from Ventry Harbour 1pm to 5 pm.
Last year our first sighting of the year was on March 31st so their arrival date is within a week or so of last year. With surface sea water temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius (similar to last year) we may have to revise our previous assumptions downwards that they appeared in Irish waters when surface sea water temperatures was about 12 degrees Celsius and a rough estimate of how long we may expect to see them off the West Kerry coast would be for about a 5 /6 week period from the present to sometime around mid / late May.
For that period welcome to the Shark Infested Waters of West Kerry!
Ten Interesting and Unusual Basking Shark Facts
1. The basking shark is the largest cartilaginous fish in the North Atlantic and the second biggest fish in the world after the whale shark. They can grow up to 12 meters in length and weigh up to 6 tonnes. They can filter the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool through their gills per day while filter feeding on plankton through their specialised gill rakers and they have a liver equivalent to about 25% of their body weight. They were formerly hunted (almost to extinction) along the west coast of Ireland for their liver oil which is a rich source of squalene often yielding up to 10 barrels of liver oil per large animal.
2. They are still hunted / fished for their fins including by some of the EU fleet, particularly Spanish vessels, despite being considered endangered in the northeast Atlantic.
3. The global population may be as low as 10,000 from an estimated pre-war population in the hundreds of thousands in the northeast Atlantic before hunting / fishing for them took off in earnest.
4. They (females) take up to 20 years to reach sexual and reproductive maturity (or when females reach about 5 meters in length) and have a long gestation period of over 2 years followed by the delivery of usually six fully formed independent pups up to about 2 meters in length who have previously fed on the mother's unfertilized ova in the sac before birth. Occasionally we have observed juvenile shark pups not much bigger than this around the Blasket Islands.
5. During the summer season basking sharks follow the line of the plankton front northwards from West Cork / West Kerry towards Donegal and the west coast of Scotland and spend the winters in the deep waters of the continental shelf edge where they graze vertically up and down the shelf edge following the diurnal rise and fall of the planktonic copepods.
Recent satellite tagging has shown that they can go to depths in excess of 1,250 meters and one individual was tagged and tracked from the Isle of Man ( another basking shark hotspot) to the Newfoundland coast so they are obviously trans-Atlantic and deep ocean travellers as well as summer visitors to the beautiful Blaskets and the West Coast of Ireland.
6. Recently, with increased coastal spotting effort (mainly for whales and dolphins) and increased marine eco-tourism sea watches like Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours, their spectacular breaching capability has been observed and video recorded on many occasions. This is a phenomenon that was only observed recently and is probably part of their mating behaviour, when not swimming side by side rubbing each others flanks, or in a long line or sometimes in a circle of male sharks swimming nose to tail following a female. This "courting" behaviour (anthropomorphically speaking) can sometimes be seen in the early summer and they are thought to give birth in late summer, two years later.
7. Basking shark probably evolved about 65 million years ago [around the period of the Last Day(s) of the Dinosaurs when many animals speciated (over time) and adapted to the changing planetary environmental conditions after an asteroid strike] and are closely related to the mackerel sharks of the Lamnidae family like the Great White Shark, although the fossil record only goes back about 35 million years because of their soft cartilaginous morphology and delicate nature of the fossil material mainly consisting of fragments of the fragile gill rakers and their tiny residual teeth.
8. Basking shark can live up to 50 years if not killed for their fins for shark fin soup!
9. The basking shark's gape (open mouth) is over one meter wide and their dorsal and pectoral fins can be up to two meters each. Their tails are crescent-moon shaped with strong lateral keels for powerful sweeping movements. They find their food using the highly developed olfactory bulbs in their noses, so they literally follow their noses!
10. The Irish name for basking shark is "Ainmhí sheoil" meaning the "Beast with the sail" (large dorsal fin above the water) and they are traditionally a sign of fine weather, hence the common misnomer "sun-fish".
[11. Basking sharks favourite food are the planktonic crustaceans Calanus helgolandicus, just like humpback whales!].
Of course, like all marine wildlife sightings, we cannot always guarantee sightings on every day or on every one of our trips but if you are interested in seeing one of our more interesting mega fauna up close and personal you should probably book a tour with Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours within the time frame above. Unlike humpback whale sightings, we usually do not have to go very far offshore to spot them when present, so you should have a good chance of a sighting on either our Morning Cruise [10 am to 1 pm] or the Afternoon Tour [ 1 pm to 5 pm]
Cetaceans (Whales and Dolphins) and Birds of Dingle Bay, April 2019
At the moment there is a lot of bird activity in Dingle Bay mainly consisting of gannets from the Skelligs and hundreds of Manx shearwaters from the outer Blasket Islands feeding on the rich sand eel shoals. This is a good sign that there is rich forage food in the Bay for birds and cetaceans and we have already encountered some Minke whales and some large schools of common dolphins numbering in the hundreds. There have also been some bottlenose dolphins cruising by and on our first trip of the season we encountered three bottlenose dolphins in Ventry Harbour where we moor our boats. In the harbour migrating sandwich terns like to perch on our yellow mooring buoys when the boats are out. Around the Great Blasket Island there are still around one thousand grey seals hauled up on the White Strand having spent the winter months on the islands which they had all to themselves.
Puffins aplenty in Dingle Bay and anxiously watching out for First Humpback Whale of the 2019 Irish Whale Watching Season.
Puffins have arrived back from the waters off the eastern coast of Canada and the mid-Atlantic where they fed on capelin shoals during the winter months and have returned to the beautiful Blasket Islands to breed and have one chick before they leave our shores again at the end of July / beginning of August. You can see them on the Afternoon Tour or the All Day Tour, but not on the Morning Cruise, as they are present on the outer Blasket islands only and not on the Great Blasket Island itself.
The first (3) humpback whales recorded in Irish waters last year were on March 25th, 2018 off Dursey Island, West Cork so they are already behind schedule!!!
We are anxiously scanning the horizon every day looking for "blows" and had some false starts mistaking the "blows" of Minke whales, clearly visible in the cold air conditions of late March / early April, as candidate humpback whales.
The trip with the best chance to see humpback whales is the Afternoon Eco Marine Tour as we stay out longer [4 hrs.] and can go further out to sea to the optimum areas for sightings beyond the Blaskets................................
Log of Whale Watching Tour Boat M.V. "Blasket Princess" 07.04.2019
Captain Whales Galore