Basking sharks off coast signals good weather ahead

BASKING sharks, the second largest fish in the world, have been sighted off the coast of West Cork.

Between 10 and 12 of the fish, about the size of a small truck, have been spotted in the past fortnight cruising the waters between Cape Clear and the Old Head of Kinsale. It’s the first time in several years that such large animals have been observed here, according to Dr Nic Slocum, director of Whale Watch, West Cork.

“We have encountered a large number of individual sharks during our whale watching tours during the past two weeks and passengers on the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry have been reporting sightings to us.”

Only small numbers of the fish had been spotted in recent years, he said.

“We saw one last year, while the previous year we saw two.”

Despite being the second largest fish in the world, second only to the whale shark, basking sharks live on some of the smallest organisms in the sea microscopic fauna known as zooplankton.

“Their slow swimming speeds and low repro-duction rates make them especially vulnerable to commercial hunting” said Dr Slocum.

Meanwhile, one of the country’s leading amateur weather forecasters, Kerry publican TP Ó Conchúir, yesterday enthusiastically welcomed the presence of basking sharks close to the shore.

“It’s a mighty sign of the weather and the closer in they come, the better,” he said. “Last year, we had them in April and May off the Kerry coast and there was a great summer afterwards. We haven’t seen them here yet this year, but I’m glad to hear they’re off Cork.”

Ballydavid-based Mr Ó Conchúir, a campaigner on behalf of drift net fishermen, has not yet given his summer forecast.

“We’re not sure yet. A couple of things are not corresponding. Something that’s encouraging, however, is that the growth of foliage is late, especially the fuchsia and whitethorn, and that’s a good sign.”

Mr Ó Conchúir relies largely on the movements of animals and birds, as well as signs from plant life, for his forecasts. He urged people to go and see the sharks, which he described as being among the most beautiful creatures in the world, surviving totally on plankton.

“Seeing them is a huge experience for children, especially, but people should not frighten them or interfere with them. These sharks are not dangerous. Just let them go their way.”

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