Video footage taken of huge basking sharks off the coast of Donegal has uncovered an amazing new discovery.
The huge creatures, which gather in great numbers off our coastline, were thought to be docile and slow filter feeders.
But new research by scientists at Irish universities has found that the sharks can jump as high and as fast as killer great white sharks.
The study used video analysis of both of the species to determine how fast they swim upwards through the water before leaping out of it.
The international marine biology team, including members from Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin, also managed to attach a data and video recording device to a basking shark off the coast of Co Donegal.
They found that on one occasion the basking shark was capable of accelerating up to the surface from 28m down over nine seconds and then breaking it at almost 90 degrees.
To do this it used just ten tail beats, increasing its tail-beating frequency six-fold and hiking its speed to 5.1m/s – twice as fast as a male Olympic freestyle swimmer.
It remained out of the water for a full second, reaching a height of 1.2m.
This behaviour was replicated in other videos taken from land and sea off Malin Head three years ago.
The research, published in Biology Letters, compared this activity to videos of the basking shark’s cousin, the great white, breaching off South Africa in 2009, where similar speeds and heights were observed.
“The impressive turn of speed that we found basking sharks exhibit shows how much we are yet to learn about marine animals – even the largest, most conspicuous species have surprises in store, if we’re willing to look,” said Dr Nick Payne, Assistant Professor in Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, and co-author of the study.
Basking sharks are found in great numbers off the coast of Ireland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.
The can reach up to 10m in length, making them the second largest fish in the sea.
“This finding does not mean that basking sharks are secretly fierce predators tearing round at high speed; they are still gentle giants munching away happily on zooplankton,” said Dr Jonathan Houghton, Researcher from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast.
“It simply shows there is far more to these sharks than the huge swimming sieves we are so familiar with. It’s a bit like discovering cows are as fast as wolves (when you’re not looking).”Tags: