Posted by: orcaweb | May 2, 2017

Sharks, Swells and Serendipitous meetings

Wednesday brought a smooth crossing for the Pont Aven across the Bay of Biscay with plenty of common dolphins joining the boat to play in the bow wave. We were also joined by two dolphins on deck 10 if you can believe! It’s true, just not dolphins of the cetacean variety, but Mr. and Mrs. Dolphin from West Yorkshire. What a superb surname! They weren’t recorded in our survey data but we thought with a name like that they definitely deserved a mention on ORCA’s blog.

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Sophie’s close encounter with a pair of Dolphins

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A common dolphin mother with her juvenile offspring

Much of this week has been sailing in fairly choppy conditions which has limited our sightings. Our latest crossing across Biscay was rough with a very large swell. However even in conditions that limit visibility you are still able to spot cetaceans, as we had common dolphins and two Cuvier’s beaked whales! Another silver lining has been the many rainbows we’ve spotted out at sea, and in the spray kicked up by the ship. Some of them have been quite dramatic against the grey clouds.

In other wildlife officer news, we have started running this season’s ORCA quizzes on board the Pont Aven. Twenty questions to test your whale and dolphin knowledge and maybe learn something new along the way. We had lots of interested teams participating on Sunday, with some great team names, including ‘Whizzers’, ‘Two whales and a mini’ and the winning team with 16/20, ‘Boys and girls on tour’. We also were joined by Pierre le Bear who helped kick the quiz off.

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Andy and Sophie with Pierre leBear kicking off ORCA’s quiz time

This week’s trip into Cork brought with it another fab sighting of a basking shark feeding not far from the harbour. ORCA may be devoted to whale and dolphin conservation, but we do record other marine wildlife, and pass on this data to relevant research organisations. This week’s sighting means we’ve had a fantastic ten basking sharks spotted this season so far. And while I wouldn’t go as far as to call me the shark whisperer, the only person present for all ten was yours truly.  However, I’m sure that my shark streak will break next week when Andy and Heather head to Cork again. You can see basking sharks into the autumn so let’s hope for plenty more! 2017 has already brought sharks to UK waters a month earlier than usual, and it’s gearing up to be a much better year for sightings than 2016.

Basker, Cork, 29 April 2017

Even amongst some choppy waves we manage to spot more basking sharks!

I’ll leave you with some Basking Shark conservation facts

  1. In the North East Atlantic they are classed as Endangered.
  • While natural mortality is low, they were fished extensively for their liver oil and fins. In many parts of the world they are still targeted or processed if caught as by-catch.
  1. It is strictly protected in UK waters.
  • As a protected species you can face heavy fines and prison sentences of up to 6 months for recklessly disrupting, harassing, injuring or killing a basking shark. Under EU law they are a prohibited species so it is illegal to fish, land or sell these magnificent fish, this also applies to EU ships in non-EU waters.
  1. They have a low birth rate, giving birth to a litter of pups every 2-4 years.
  • They are Ovoviviparous. This means the eggs hatch inside the uterus of the shark and the young sharks mature further before the shark gives birth. Basking sharks also show ovophagy, literally ‘egg-eating’. The mother shark will continue to produce infertile eggs which the young feed on as they grow in the uterus.
  • This low fertility rate combined with a long maturation rate is one factor that has slowed their population recovery.
  1. They can travel HUGE distances across whole oceans
  • While we see them through April to October in UK and Irish waters, satellite tagging has shown that outside this window they spend more time feeding in deeper water. They have even been recorded migrating across the Atlantic and crossing the equator!
  • This highly mobile nature means that basking sharks need more than national or regional protection, much like many species of whales and dolphins.

For more information about Basking Sharks and where to spot them, check out The Shark Trust and their Basking Shark Project. Definitely check out the Shark Trust’s Code of Conduct for interacting with Basking sharks for an excellent protocol to guide your wildlife encounter.

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