Watch: Researchers swim alongside basking shark off Cork coast

Two researchers were able to go snorkelling alongside a 6m female basking shark.
Watch: Researchers swim alongside basking shark off Cork coast

On the final day of the week-long research trip, Dr Nick Payne and Haley Dolton were able to observe one of the females they had tagged up close.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) have tagged a number of basking sharks currently swimming in West Cork.

In an effort to learn more about the anatomy and physiology of the second-largest shark species, Dr Nick Payne and Haley Dolton spent a week in Cork studying them as they swim around the coast feeding on plankton.

In total, four sharks were given electronic tags which will accumulate data about the sharks' behaviour to help guide conservation efforts for an endangered species.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Dr Payne and Ms Dolton had the opportunity to get an up-close look at two basking sharks before they ever entered the water after they washed up on the coastline near Clonakilty within days of one another.

 One of the basking sharks that washed up in West Cork last month. Picture: Andy Gibson.
One of the basking sharks that washed up in West Cork last month. Picture: Andy Gibson.

Dr Payne, Assistant Professor with TCD's School of Natural Sciences, said while they would rather not have had the chance to examine the two dead sharks it allowed for detailed examination of the internal anatomy and musculature of the specimens.

These dissections helped the two researchers learn more about how this species' physiology allows them to behave the way they do and to cope with the environmental variation such as changes in water temperature.

"Basking sharks are a difficult species to study because they are not very abundant and they only grace our shores for a brief period each year, from April to August, so I am delighted we were able to learn so much about them this past week," said Dr Payne.

"Basking sharks are an endangered species and at risk of death from fishing bycatch and from getting struck by boats, so the more we know about them – especially their behaviour and physiology – the better chance we have of protecting them."

On the final day of the week-long research trip, Dr Payne and Ms Dolton were able to observe one of the females they had tagged up close.

Working with local marine tourism operator David Edwards of West Cork Charters, they went snorkelling with the 6m shark.

"The experience we had of observing live sharks in all their glory really emphasises that we should do our best to protect these incredible animals," Dr Payne said.

The week-long research provided a "phenomenal" amount of data beyond what the two had hoped for.

The findings provided from the trip and the data collected from the electronic tags will be shared later this year.

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