It might look like a scene from Jaws, but this shark is even bigger and—sorry, thrill seekers—not dangerous at all. This past weekend we were treated to an amazing encounter with an enormous basking shark.
Growing up to 6–8 meters, basking sharks are the second largest fish alive today. They migrate along the world’s temperate waters and—while not quite rare—are an exceptional treat to see in Irish waters.
Our Basking Shark: Chickpea
Comparing it’s size to the 37ft Suil Eile, our skipper Barry reckons Chickpea was about 25ft long (~7.5m). If you think Chickpea is an inappropriate name for a 25ft behemoth, you can just go direct your complaints to the person nearest you!
Chickpea showed up last Sunday (15 May) while the Suil Eile was out for a day sail around the Aran Islands. Barry and a couple of lucky Canadian photographers were graced by Chickpea’s lumbering presence near the Eeragh lighthouse off the north-western tip of Inishmore.
Of all sharks, this species has the smallest weight-for-weight brain size. So, while they may not be the sharpest sharks in the sea, this may account for their relatively docile behaviour: they’re not at all aggressive and are harmless to humans. It’s also possible that sharks like Chickpea approach sail boats like the Suil Eile because they initially mistake them for other basking sharks.
This is definitely in contrast to the occasional inquisitive dolphin that pops in for a visit.
Irish Basking Sharks
This is clearly the time of year to catch sight of these migratory leviathans. Last week a photographer, James McCarthy, captured a small school of basking sharks on video with a drone, of all things! The video was covered a couple days ago in this Irish Independent article and was also picked up by the BBC yesterday.
Shot from a drone! How cool is that!?
Anyway, Chickpea and the Suil Eile eventually parted ways, but what an incredible encounter it was!