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Vital Irish 'nursery' for sharks and stingrays needs protection

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Rare species: Marine biologist Kevin Flannery says the North Bay/Tralee Bay should be a marine protected area after a 10ft porbeagle shark beached nearby

Rare species: Marine biologist Kevin Flannery says the North Bay/Tralee Bay should be a marine protected area after a 10ft porbeagle shark beached nearby

Rare species: Marine biologist Kevin Flannery says the North Bay/Tralee Bay should be a marine protected area after a 10ft porbeagle shark beached nearby

Ireland has been urged to protect pregnant sharks and stingrays arriving to give birth off the Kerry coast.

Jaw-dropping footage of stingrays and sharks captured for Blue Planet in the tropical waters of the Bahamas and the Great Barrier Reef have been viewed by millions.

But closer to home in Tralee Bay is a little-known nursery where stingrays, sharks and skates swim in with the high tides during the full moon at the start of summer to release their young.

Its importance as a breeding ground for sharks was highlighted in recent weeks when an astonished farmer found a pregnant 10ft porbeagle shark beached in his stream in Tralee and died.

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Kevin Flannery. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Kevin Flannery. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Kevin Flannery. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Marine biologist Kevin Flannery has been logging numerous species of rays, sharks and skates for years.

"It's a Serengeti of the Atlantic for rays and sharks," said Mr Flannery, chairman of the Irish Elasmobranch Group, a conservation group for rays and sharks.

"The North Bay/Tralee Bay has to be a marine protected area. I know the Irish Marine Institute is looking at it. It is vitally important for the angel shark, the undulated ray, now we have the porbeagle shark, we have the tope shark.

"It's National Biodiversity Week and the whole issue of conservation of these species who are on their last legs seems to have been forgotten."

He wants a ban on shark fishing across Europe to allow the pregnant mothers safe passage to the bay, especially in the light of a number of vessels arrested for shark finning in Irish waters last year.

"It's obvious now Tralee Bay is a major nursery for an awful lot of these shark species and rays. They come in on the full moon and release their young, they work on the tides, so that the young can build up during the summer, much the same as you have lambing in the spring.

"There is nobody in Europe eating them, they are only totally for export for fins to China and places like Hong Kong. I would be calling on the Greens to give protection and ask their MEPs to vote for a total European-wide ban on the taking of sharks in Ireland.

"Basically, the mothers can't come in if there are nets there. The nets are shot off the Maharees Island, north west of Brandon [Head] that sort of area.

"Tralee Bay is their indigenous maternity unit and it has to be protected. If you don't you have no future. Hopefully, the Marine Institute will work with the fishermen and work out some compromise."

He said the discovery of the pregnant 10ft porbeagle shark shows the area's importance as a breeding ground.

"The farmer, Val Burke, got the fright of his life to find this shark washed up and was wondering how in the name of God it got on his land," he said.

There was a high, pink full moon on the night the shark came in to shore around Derrymore Island in Tralee Bay.

"She was coming in as far as possible and maybe she chased some mullet up the stream and when she got in too far, she found she was beached and unable to turn."

The porbeagles are called White Pointers and resemble Great White Sharks but do not tend to attack humans.

Mr Flannery said records show a six gill shark, which can grow up to 20ft and weigh over 400lbs, was found in Tralee. He believes plankton blooms from the run-off from the River Shannon attract smaller feeding fish, which in turn attract these larger species.

But their presence is largely unknown. "People see an odd dolphin jumping when they are crossing on the ferry but they know nothing about the sting rays or the sharks.

"The Irish Elasmobranch Group work with the scientific community and the Marine Institute and other institutes as well, and from all the data that they have accumulated we know for a fact it is a breeding ground.

"You have every type of stingray possible, if they saw it in the coral reefs or the Seychelles people would be raving about it and going to visit.

"It is vitally important because we are on the last legs of some of these species like the angel shark and possibly the very large skates."

He said illegal shark finning in Irish waters saw a number of boats brought before the courts last year for a practice which is depleting the world's slow-growing stocks.

He said the sharks were in dire straits but their plight went unseen here because visibility is poor because of the plankton.

Sunday Independent