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Sunday 25 August 2019

'An exciting encounter': Hammerhead shark spotted in Irish waters for the first time

Hammerhead sharks could become more common in Irish waters due to global warming
Hammerhead sharks could become more common in Irish waters due to global warming
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A HAMMERHEAD shark has been spotted in Irish waters for the first time – but the glimpse was so fleeting, scientists didn’t get a chance to snatch a photo.

The large fish with a distinctive hammer-shaped, flattened head, was spotted during an extensive annual survey still underway by researchers from the Marine Institute.

It was spotted in the Atlantic, about 100 miles off the south-west coast.

Two marine scientists on board the RV Celtic Explorer were able to positively identify it by its unique dorsal fin.

Chief scientist Ciaran O'Donnell, Marine Institute told colleagues that they had hoped somebody had captured an image of the shark on a mobile phone – but unfortunately the encounter was too brief. Nor was anyone able to estimate the length of the shark.

"It happened so quick. They were very excited by it," said Kathleen Sweeney of the Marine Institute’s facility at Newport, Co Mayo.

She revealed that the scientists were conducting the WESPAS (Western European Shelf Pelagic Acoustic) Survey which takes place annually over a six week period where scientists on board the RV Celtic Explorer collect acoustic and biological data on herring and boarfish, used to provide an independent measure of these fish stocks in Irish waters.

The hammerhead shark is not normally found in waters this far north but Ms Sweeney said experts believe that the appearance of the shark is believed to be linked the rising temperatures of the seas, linked to global warming – and therefore a cause for concern.

John Power, a marine observer who spotted the hammerhead, said: "While scanning the ocean surface, we sighted a dorsal fin unlike anything we had encountered before. It was quite different to the fins seen on basking sharks and blue sharks.

"After consulting available ID keys, we agreed that the shark must be a smooth hammerhead."

Dr Paul Connolly, director of fisheries and ecosystems services at the Marine Institute said: "This is an exciting encounter, especially since a rare deep-water shark nursery, 200 miles west of Ireland, was discovered by Irish scientists last year.

"This sighting of a new shark species, shows the importance of our fishery surveys to monitor our marine environment, and to observe changes in our oceans and marine ecosystems."

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