Thursday 29 September 2016

Watch: Basking shark swims within metres of shore in Achill's breathtaking Keem Bay

Wild Atlantic Wonder

Published 11/06/2015 | 08:13

An amateur video has captured the rare sight of a basking shark cruising close to shore in one of Ireland's most beautiful bays.

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The video was filmed by local man Graham Sweeney this week.

Graham was out on Keem Bay - a signature discovery point on the Wild Atlantic Way - when he spotted a young basking shark cruising just metres from the shore.

The shark, swimming as if enjoying the bay to itself, is an evocative sight.

Basking shark are the largest fish in the North Atlantic, and they once swam off Achill in abundance - almost 10,000 were caught between the 1950s and 1980s, according to Sean Molloy, Manager of Achill Tourism.

They are docile, toothless, and harmless to humans.

Populations dwindled, however - largely due to the boom-and-bust fishing cycle - and by 1984, the island's shark fishing industry ceased operations for good.

Basking sharks are today is listed by the ICUN as endangered in the Northeast Atlantic, according to The Irish Basking Shark Project, an amalgamation of research studies based in Ireland.

July, 1954: Shark fishermen off Achill Island, County Mayo. Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images
July, 1954: Shark fishermen off Achill Island, County Mayo. Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images
A pair of dead sharks caught in Keem Bay, off Achill Island, in 1954. Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Images

There are no population estimates for basking sharks in Irish waters, nor enough data to indicate population growth or decline, the Project says on its website (baskingshark.ie).

But could the animals be making a comeback?

Molloy says there has been "a huge increase" in the number of basking shark sightings off Mayo this year. It's not alone. Recently, US shark expert Dr. Pete Klimley said Donegal offered the potential for a 'shark park'.

"I don't think people in Ireland really understand what a jewel they have... I don't believe there's anywhere else in the world where you could see that," he said.

A basking shark photographed off Donegal. Pic: Nigel Moyter/www.baskingshark.ie
A basking shark photographed off Donegal. Pic: Nigel Moyter/www.baskingshark.ie
Juvenile basking shark, photographed off Malin Head. Pic: www.baskingshark.ie
Keem Bay, Achill Island. One of the new Blueway trails.
Dr. Pete Kilmley, AKA Dr. Hammerhead, at Malin Head.

Klimley was speaking at Malin Head, where the Irish Basking Shark Study Group (IBSSG) hopes to develop a basking shark research and visitor centre.

On Achill, local fishermen are currently erecting a storyboard memorial which will tell the story of the island's shark fishermen, Molloy said.

For more on Achill Island, see achilltourism.com. To find out more about basking sharks, or report a sighting, see baskingshark.ie.

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