Travel Ireland

Thursday 21 March 2019

Donegal the perfect spot for a 'Shark Park' - US expert

A basking shark photographed off Donegal. Pic: Nigel Moyter/www.baskingshark.ie
A basking shark photographed off Donegal. Pic: Nigel Moyter/www.baskingshark.ie
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Hundreds of basking shark "and maybe even white sharks" make Malin Head ideally suited to a 'Shark Park', according to a world-renowned expert.

"I'm looking at a site which I think is really unique in the world."

On a recent visit to Ireland, Dr. Pete Kilmley stood at the edge of Donegal's Inishowen Peninsula, gazed out over a heaving ocean, and marvelled at the potential beneath the Wild Atlantic Waves.

"I believe there might even be white sharks here," he gushed.

Dr. Klimley - AKA Dr. Hammerhead - is one of the world’s foremost shark experts.

He was visiting Ireland as part of a public outreach program organised by the Irish Basking Shark Study Group, the U.S. Embassy in Dublin and the Royal Dublin Society, and shared his enthusiasm for a Donegal "Shark Park" in a video posted this week by the US Embassy.

'Shark Parks' are similar concepts to National Parks - a defined area of the ocean dedicated to the conservation of sharks. Visitors to such a park at Malin Head could see hundreds of basking shark in the waters offshore, Kilmley believes.

"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. And it's right here in Ireland."

'Dr. Hammerhead' is an Adjunct Professor at the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology in the University of California. He was one of the first scientists to develop telemetric techniques (where data is collected at remote locations and transmitted to receiving equipment) for shark observation. Many of the tags used to track fish today are a direct result of his research.

Klimley earned his nickname by studying hammerhead sharks in depth - literally. He is known to have held his breath while diving up to 100 feet in order to hand-tag hammerheads.

During his trip to Ireland, Klimley visited Donegal, where the Irish Basking Shark Study Group (IBSSG) hopes to develop a basking shark research and visitor centre and “Shark Park” off Malin Head.

"The 'Shark Park' is something we are working hard to develop as a tool for managing some of Ireland’s and indeed our neighbouring territories shark populations," says Emmett Johnston, a spokesperson for the Group.

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
Niamh Ní Drisceoil of the Fastnet Tour Company managed to capture some video footage of a shark basking around West Cork recently.
Malin Head, Co. Donegal. Could it host a 'Shark Park'? Pic: VisitInishowen.com
Dr. Pete Kilmley, AKA Dr. Hammerhead, at Malin Head. Source: US Embassy in Dublin
Basking shark off Donegal. Pic: www.baskingshark.ie

Johnston and his colleagues are close to gaining a consensus between the relevant Departments, County Councils and Agencies for an application to an EU fund for the development of "a collaborative shark-focused research and interpretation initiative on the Malin front," he says.

This would provide the data and interpretation required to implement a joint ‘Shark Park’ with Scotland and Northern Ireland on the Malin Front, he believes.

Sharks roam freely across territorial boundaries - hence the collaborative approach.

Some 100 million sharks are killed every year by commercial fishermen, according to a report published last year in the journal Marine Policy.

Although Dr. Klimley mentions a "no-fishing zone", however, Johnston is quick to reassure fishermen that this is not what his Group is advocating for Malin Head.

"The fact that so many sharks are visiting and residing in the area is a testament to the management of the current fisheries practices there," he says.

"This was something Dr. Klimley mentioned with relevance to other parks he is working on in the Galapagoes and Costa Rica, and it was taken out of context for the video because shark finning is not an issue in the marine area we are looking at."

You can read more on the mooted Malin Head Ocean Centre, Marine Park and Biosphere here.

dr hammerhead.png
Dr. Pete Kilmley, AKA Dr. Hammerhead, at Malin Head.

Inishowen Tourism (visitinishowen.com)  is enthusiastic about the prospect.

"We gladly welcomed Dr. Hammerhead to the Peninsula," says Siobhan Kelly, Interim Manager.

"This is a huge development opportunity for the area and Inishowen Tourism would gladly welcome the development of a Shark Park. It would be amazing to offer such a niche product to incoming tourists."

A 'Shark Park' is not on Fáilte Ireland's radar, however.

"Dr. Kilmley is right about the wildlife," says Alex Connolly, its Head of Communications.

"I think the wildlife out there is genuinely surprising - that's one reason so many Irish people have gotten out to explore the Wild Atlantic Way this year.

"The touring route really is like a safari in itself."

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