Hundreds of basking sharks have turned up off the coast of Donegal in recent days. They are known as the “sunfish” and as the “monster with sails” in Irish, and our northwest waters are “teeming” with them. Scientists working off the Co Donegal coast have tagged a record 50 basking sharks in three days this week.
The Inishowen Peninsula between Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle is fast being recognised by experts as a hotspot for the second largest fish in the ocean. Locals have been gathering at Malin Head to catch a glimpse.
The basking shark was hunted off the south and west coasts until 20 years ago. Fishermen nicknamed it the “sunfish” due to its habit of swimming just below the surface. Increased marine productivity, which may be linked to climate change, could be one of several reasons for greater numbers of the shark in these waters, he added.
Fishermen and other boat users have also been thrilled by the sight of the huge fish breaching, or leaping entirely clear of the water and landing on their backs.
Emmett Johnston of the Irish Basking Shark Project, which is conducting research into the animals, said: “We have had a few panicking people on to us alright, but as people become more familiar with the basking sharks they realise that they are completely harmless.
“They feed on plankton. They are totally docile and they are not a threat to fishing.” Basking sharks are protected in Britain and Northern Ireland but not in the Republic.