Ireland's basking sharks to get protected status under Wildlife Act

Move to be supported by new code of conduct to support sustainable wildlife tourism

The second largest shark or fish in the world, basking sharks can often can be seen in shallow coastal locations close to human activities.

Ireland's basking shark is to given the status of a "protected wild animal" under the Wildlife Act, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan has announced.

In addition, “a collaborative code of conduct for the eco tourism and wildlife watching industry in Ireland” is to be developed to support best practice, including observation of sharks and whales spotted around the Irish coastline.

The basking shark – Cetorhinus maximus – which feeds on plankton, is a regular visitor to Ireland’s shores when the water is warmer from late spring to late summer.

The second largest shark or fish in the world, it can often can be seen in shallow coastal locations close to human activities. As an adult, it can stretch to eight metres while its mouth is up to a metre wide.

READ MORE

Though there have been increased anecdotal sightings of the shark and its population in Irish waters is unknown. Ireland provides an important habitat for the species, which is currently listed on the IUCN Red List as globally vulnerable and endangered in the northeast Atlantic region.

The move, announced to coincide with World Wildlife Day, follows a public campaign seeking better protection of the species led by the Irish Basking Shark Group, which received more than 13,000 signatories for its petition.

“Basking sharks are extraordinary creatures and they’re facing increasing pressures from a range of sources, including disturbance. This move will confer legal protections on them in the short term and enhance their protection in the longer term through the collaborative development of a code of conduct to support best practice in sustainable eco tourism,” Mr Noonan added.

A forthcoming review of the Wildlife Act will also enable further consideration of aspects of its protection, he said.

Mr Noonan paid tribute to “the many members of the public – particularly young children – who have been so passionate in calling for basking shark protection.”

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O'Brien welcomed the move: "Marine protection is a vital element of the work we do in this Department and strong progress is being made in that regard, particularly on Marine Protected Areas, which will form a crucial pillar in ensuring that we have a clean, healthy, diverse and sustainably used marine environment."

Where a wild animal is protected under Section 23 of the Wildlife Act, it is an offence to hunt it or injure it (unless done while hunting in accordance with a licence or exemption), or to wilfully interfere with or destroy its breeding or resting places.

Mr Noonan said the National Parks and Wildlife Service is to engage marine eco tourism, recreation at sea and wildlife watching industries, as well as environmental NGOs, to develop a code of conduct “to ensure strong awareness of and accordance with best practice for operators and the public in observing or encountering marine wildlife such as basking sharks, as well as other species of fish, marine mammals and birds”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times