Sharks that Bask
Are sharks still basking in the waters of the Aran Islands?
I only ask because basking sharks featured in a 1934 black-and-white British documentary entitled Man of Aran, which we rented a couple of weeks ago.
In the film the men of Aran (a group of islands on the west coast of Ireland) risked their lives, rowing tiny boats into treacherous waters to capture these enormous fish to use for liver oil.
And it made me wonder about basking sharks.
Contrary to the picture you might get from my initial question, a basking shark doesn’t lie on a sunny beach, donning huge sunglasses, fins crossed behind his neck. He’s called a “basking shark” because he feeds very close to the surface of the water, filtering about 2000 tons of water a day to get his fill of plankton. He and his basking friends are also called sunfish, monsters with sails and in Irish, ”liabhán chor gréine” – the great fish of the sun.
And they are great – as long and heavy as a London city bus – growing as large as 40 feet and weighing as much as 10 tons. According to www.baskingsharks.org (only one of several websites dedicated to their study and preservation), they are the second largest living shark, next to the whale shark.
They’ve even been in the news lately. Did you miss it?
Last month, according to an Aran Isles blog, an Irish Times Marine Correspondent reported that northwest Ireland waters were “teeming” with basking sharks. On July 5, 2009, the *Florida Museum of Natural History reported 900 sightings of the basking shark off British shores since the beginning of June, compared to about 11 a year before.
So the answer to my question is “Yes,” they are alive and well and still swimming in the North Atlantic and sometimes even south of the Equator.
Other discoveries I made along the way:
- In 1972, basking sharks were featured in a 30-minute cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera Studios.
- Almost 105,000 have viewed this You-Tube video of basking sharks, set to orchestra music. (Anyone know the name and composer of this piece?)
- Basking sharks are a protected species in the UK, New Zealand, and the US Gulf and Atlantic Waters.
- These days, visitors (1,000 per day) to the largest Aran Island outnumber the residents (800). (Rick Steves’ Europe).
- Reading about the Aran Islands gives me one more reason I’d like to visit Ireland someday – not necessarily to see the sharks, but to meet the people who continue to live in a place I would probably consider uninhabitable.
Anything you’ve wondered about lately? Let me know. I’d love to research it for you and feature it here. We do indeed live in a world filled with wonder.
*10-19-2010 Update: The link to the Florida Museum news item seems to be unavailable now, but I found news of an April 2010 sighting off South Laguna Beach, California, reported in the Orange County Register.