by Paul Cormacain
THE Ulster Wildlife Trust is one of the organisations that is interested in many aspects of wildlife, and nothing comes wilder than sharks. Sharks are our largest fish, and many people are concerned about its welfare and its future.
The UWT aims to discover more about this large fish, and is doing much research on the subject. They feel that any important conservation project must have full information about what they are trying to protect.
The Wildlife Trusts are involved in a three year project, initially involving the southern shores of Devon and Cornwall. The Irish Sea is the next area to come under scrutiny, then the Firth of Clyde and the sea of the Hebrides. Photo-identification will be used, and video recordings will also be used. This will help to ascertain if the same sharks turn up in the same area each year, and what is it that attracts the creatures.
The Ulster Wildlife Trust is concerned about more than sharks, and was among the first organisations to welcome the recent report on conservation and sustainable development on the seas around Britain and Ireland. "The report sets a framework for the management of marine resources in the future," says the trust, going on to suggest improvements.
Back to getting thrown to the sharks!
The basking shark can be quite enormous, and awesome. It is one of the larger fishes in the world, and can grow to a massive 12 metres, and can weigh up to three thousand kilo grams. You would not want one of those to sit on top of you.
It has five very long gill slits covering the sides of the throat, and this gill arrangement distinguishes the basking from other sharks. Its eating habits means that 1.5 million kilo grams of water pass through its gills every hour, and the food is filtered out at this stage. The good news is that the food is tiny, and consists only of plankton. So if you meet up with a basking shark, he will swim away from you and look for a plankton meal elsewhere.
It is in the summer that you are most liable to see one of these huge, harmless creatures. Current thinking was that the basking shark was only seen in the oceans around Ireland and Britain, but new thinking is that it is available in the Irish Sea. Not too much is yet known about their biology, but it is thought that the female incubates eggs in its body until they hatch. When the young are born, they may be 1.5 metres long.
There was a time when the basking shark was hunted by folk from Norway, Scotland and Ireland, for its gigantic liver could yield up to 2.5 kilo litres of oil, valuable for oil lamps and candle making.
The Ulster Wildlife Trust has actually invited two members of the public onto their boat, and they are going out next month to study the basking shark in the Irish Sea.
The organisation is also asking that if anyone sights a shark, or porpoise, or whale, they could note details, like time, date, numbers, sizes, behaviour. This information could then be passed on to it, and it will coordinate the information, and share it with other interested bodies.
So the next time you see a basking shark, ask it how the plankton is going, invite it to a race, but do not be afraid of it.
Every Saturday and Sunday in July: Guided tours around Castle Espie, at 1430, phone them on 028 9187 4146.
Monday 1st July to Wednesday 31st July: Animal, Bird, Creepy crawlies, a good old A B C trail, for children of all ages, contact 028 9187 4146
Sunday 14th to Wednesday 24th July: Check the young ducks behind the scenes at Castle Espie, more from 028 9187 4146.
Saturday 20th July: Oxford Island has a guided walk around the Montiaghs Moss Nature Reserve, on the lookout for dragonflies and flesh-eating plants. Phone 028 3832 2205.
Thursday 24th July: Castle Espie birdwatch morning at 1030, with more information from 028 9187 4146
Saturday 27th July: Butterfly Conservation outing to Killard Point, at 1030, and ask Trevor Boyd for more details on 028 9185 2276.