Donegal’s amazing basking sharks are to get protected status after new legislation in the Dail.
The legislation will amend the Wildlife Act to give basking sharks protected status in Ireland.
Donegal is home to a huge colony of the docile creatures who visit Irish shores between April and August.
Inishowen-based ecologist Emmett Johnston has championed research into the creatures which can be seen along Donegal’s coastline in the summer months.
It is estimated that up to 20% of the world’s basking shark population visit Irish waters during this time.
However, despite being considered ‘threatened’ by conservationists, basking sharks are currently not a protected species in Ireland.
Many of the sharks, which survive by eating huge amounts of plankton, are victims of boat strikes and interference by pleasure boat users.
Now it is set to become a crime to interfere with the majestic creatures.
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore has introduced a bill in the Oireachtas that would change this and make it illegal for anyone to intentionally or recklessly injure or harass them off Irish coasts.
Whitmore, a former marine biologist, said Ireland was “blessed” to have basking sharks come to its shores every year.
“We have a deep cultural connection to this animal and it is often a symbol of our indigenous maritime life,” she told the Dáil.
“It represents the mysterious nature of our marine waters and continues to mystify us as we actually know just a small amount about this creature.
“The Government must list this species as protected and encourage its protection to the fullest extent possible.
“It is a simple legislative change but it could be a matter of life and death for basking sharks.
“We need to treasure our natural heritage, our biodiversity and our own iconic species, and afford basking shark the same protections that other countries afford them.”