The world’s second largest shark, the basking shark, which can measure up to 33ft / 10m long, was recently granted legal protection in Ireland. The move comes after the country’s west coast saw large schools of the charismatic shark in recent summers that drew in large crowds to observe the plankton-eating species.
Conservationists and wildlife experts have warned that a high degree of unmonitored human interaction can stress the species. With basking shark populations declining in many regions across the world, they have called for the protection of the basking shark groups visiting Irish waters. A number of petitions also highlighted the issue in recent years.
“Basking sharks are extraordinary creatures and they’re facing increasing pressures from a range of sources, including disturbance,” said heritage minister Malcolm Noonan in a statement who promised to add the species to the list of protected animals under the Wildlife Act. He added: “This move will confer legal protections on them in the short term and enhance their protection in the longer term through the collaborative development of a code of conduct to support best practice in sustainable eco-tourism.”
Under the Wildlife Act, the hunting or injuring of a basking shark, as well as interfering with or destroying their breeding and resting places would be considered an offence.
“It’s long overdue. Many people were surprised they didn’t already have protection. Hopefully it will be put in place quickly before the next season brings them close to shore again,” commented Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore after the announcement.
While the amendment to the Wildlife Act will be finalised in the near future, the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be working alongside the tourism industry to ensure that basking sharks are protected within Irish waters.
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Photography courtesy of Florian Graner and Brian Gratwicke.