The basking shark is the second largest fish in the ocean, after the whale shark. They have an average length of 6.7 – 8.8 meters. They have a torpedo-like body shape and prefer to ‘bask’ in the upper layers of the water, which can give you quite a fright when all you see is the dorsal fin gliding through the sea.
They can be found in temperate seas the world over, including the Irish coastline
When to see the basking shark in Ireland?
It’s hard to say when the exact period is since there are always early and late sightings, but basically basking shark season in Ireland starts in April and runs through to early August. Peak of the season is mid May to mid June, giving fantastic opportunities to spot them.
Ideal basking shark weather
Having calm weather after a period of sunny days in May or June are your best chances to spot the basking shark. When the seas are calm, it is easier to see the tell-tale dorsal fin breaking the water surface. Besides that, fine weather gives a boost to the phytoplankton production, which in turn increases the concentration of zooplankton at the water’s surface, attracting the sharks up to feed.
Where to see the basking sharks in Ireland?
Basking sharks live wherever there is an aggregation of the zooplankton they feed on and can occur anywhere around the Irish coastline during the spring and summer months. However, there are a few hotspots that will raise your chances. From the south coast of West Cork to the Western coastline in Kerry, the North West coast of Mayo, Sligo and Donegal (Malin Head).
The best place in Ireland to see the basking shark however is near the Blaskets Islands on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula (Slea Head). Anywhere with a good view over a large expanse of water is suitable. Headlands, such as Slea Head, are ideal, as they give an expansive view of the open ocean. Basking sharks are often seen at the surface of the water, so bays and inlets with shallow water are an option as well. For this reason, the bay near Wine strand is a good spot as well.
How to see them?
There are several options to see the basking shark. Since they venture very close to the shore and follow the aggregations of zooplankton it is possible to see them from the beach. Even better if you choose a watching site above sea level.
To improve your odds of spotting a basking shark, you can opt to join a eco-boat tour, starting in Dingle harbour. The most adventurous option however, is to get yourself a kayak and venture on the waters on your own.
Tips to spot the basking shark:
Spotting a basking shark requires a lot of patience. Scan the water surface methodically looking for tell-tale signs of shark activity — here are some things to look out for:
- Flashes of sunlight: The black dorsal fin of the basking shark is very shiny when wet. On sunny days, this fin can work like a mirror.
- Diving gannets: Diving gannets gather over shoals of fish they feed on. This type of fish often eat the same plankton that basking sharks are feeding on — so the birds are a good indirect indicator that there could be sharks around.
- Tidal fronts: In places where warm water meets cooler water, a tidal front causes an oily slick of water off a headland or at the mouth of a bay. These fronts attract plankton, the basking shark often feeds on.