Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish. These filter feeders are often seen swimming with their massive mouths open to get their share of zooplankton. Though these giants, which can grow to nearly 40 feet in length, are not generally dangerous to humans, humans are dangerous to them. Due to demand for their oil, fins, and livers, their numbers have dwindled as a result of overfishing. IUCN has listed them as endangered on its Red List of globally endangered species, and the sharks are getting a bit more help from a new ally.
The Republic of Ireland has implemented new protections for the basking shark under its Wildlife Act, which allows for protections for wildlife and control of some activities that may harm species. For the basking shark, it is now an offense to hunt or injure them, unless under permission or license from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is also an offense to willfully interfere with or destroy their breeding or resting sites.
Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan says, “We are living in an age of mass extinction. There is an urgent responsibility on all of us to do everything we can to reverse that trend. By strengthening protections for the Basking Shark, Ireland will play its part in offering improved protection to an endangered species that depends on our territorial waters to survive and flourish.”
Officials say Irish waters are one of the most internationally significant coastal regions for the species. To further protect them, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is also developing a Code of Conduct for the wildlife watching industry to ensure there is safe interaction with basking sharks. They plan to increase awareness of the best approach with businesses and the general public.
Irish officials also hope to work with other countries to support the species.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, says, “In addition to this measure, my department continues to support conservation efforts for this species through the SeaMonitor project, a trans-boundary research initiative that is focused on developing research links between Irish marine research teams and our international partners.”
This is the latest in a number of moves worldwide to help the species. They are also protected under Wildlife Order 1985 in Northern Ireland and Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in Great Britain. Beginning in 2007, the European Union also banned fishing vessels from targeting, retaining, trans-shipping or landing them.