Wednesday 19 June 2019

Seven-metre shark filmed swimming with dolphins off Achill Island beach

A 25-foot basking shark has been joined by a pod of dolphins in Achill Island's Keem Bay, new footage shows

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

How can you possibly top the sight of a 25-foot basking shark swimming in the pristine waters of Keem Bay?

Add a pod of dolphins.

That's the sight that greeted adventurous drone enthusiast John Joyce this week, when he set out to capture footage of a huge basking shark.

The shark, estimated by local fishermen at around 25-feet or seven metres in length, has been a regular visitor to Achill Island over the past month.

Last week, Independent.ie shared drone footage captured by local videographer and Achill Tourism marketing manager Seán Molloy (video below). After the footage was made public, visitor numbers to the island spiked.

"We had lots of people coming to Achill over the weekend to see it," Molloy says. "Fortunately a few more basking sharks showed up - up to five by some accounts - along with up to 20 dolphins."

Joyce's early-morning footage shows some of those dolphins, and a magical moment during which they appear to interact with a placid basking shark.

"As soon as I got out of the car on the crest of the steep hill that leads down to Keem Bay, I could see the distinct dorsal fin," he says.

"That was a very rewarding moment, because I could count at least five sharks and a large pod of dolphins, and it was only 9am... with very calm, sunny weather conditions, I knew I was going to remember this morning for a long time to come!"

Reaching up to 10m in length, basking shark are the world's second-largest fish after the whale shark. They tend to appear off the Irish coastline between April and August (watch more dramatic footage here), when food supplies are common.

The basking shark filmed by John Joyce in Keem Bay
The basking shark filmed by John Joyce in Keem Bay
Keem Bay. Photo: John Joyce
The basking shark (inset) was filmed swimming in Keem Bay by drone enthusiast, John Joyce

Irish names for the sharks include liop an dá lapa ("unwieldy beast with two fins") and liamhán gréine or liabán gréine ("great fish of the sun"). Despite their size, the animals are plankton feeders deemed harmless to humans, though as with any wild animal, people should not get too close - particularly to their powerful tailfins.

Historically, Keem Bay was the site of one of the world's largest basking shark fisheries, contributing to a critical reduction in the species population - a fact that gives images of the animal swimming freely an added resonance.

Today, basking sharks are listed by the ICUN as a "vulnerable" species.

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