Ireland: Bluntnose sixgill shark seen in waters off the coast
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In what has been described as a European first, a team from Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast has filmed one of the planet’s most enigmatic sharks. A 13ft-long bluntnose sixgill (Hexanchus griseus) has appeared off the coast of County Clare, Ireland, where it got up-close and personal with the researchers’ cameras. The team of scientists was exploring the Irish coastal waters last week to learn more about this mysterious family of deep-sea predators.
Little did they know at the time one of the sharks would make a surprise appearance in front of their special recording equipment.
The shark can be seen slowly emerging from the dark depths, swimming towards the submerged ABUV – a type of fish-identifying camera built by the Belfast-based company Fjordstrong.
After the footage was recovered, one of the lead researchers yelled out: “That’s not another dogfish!”
The shark appeared off the coast of County Clare where local charter skipper Luke Aston discovered a few sites favoured by the species.
Quite unusually, the waters along the southwest coast of Ireland are fairly shallow – 164 to 196ft (50 to 60m).
Shark video: Researchers have filmed a giant sixgill shark off the coast of Ireland (Image: GETTY STOCK)
Shark video: The shark was filmed in Ireland’s shallow coastal waters (Image: Trinity College Dublin and Fjordstrong)
Bluntnose sixgill sharks average 15 to 16ft in length and sport a grey to olive-brown complexion.
The sharks typically live at deep waters off the continental shelf, reaching depths between 656 and 8,200ft (200 to 2,500m).
Very little is known about this species but it is believed to be a descendant of prehistoric sharks that roamed the seas even before the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
According to the Florida Museum shark file database, the bluntnose does not pose a threat to humans with only one provoked attack on record since 1500.
Researchers are, therefore, more interested in the shark’s appearance from a strictly scientific perspective.
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Haley Dolton, a PhD candidate at Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “Sixgill sharks are an incredible species and this particular site off the Irish coastline is of particular interest as large, females have regularly been sighted in shallow waters.
“For some reason, this area is important to them and, given that all sixgills caught by Luke Aston appear to be females, there is a suggestion that this area is important for reproductive purposes.
“Getting the chance to try and solve this riddle in sixgill shark biology is a very intriguing part of my PhD and could have major implications for conservation of this species.”
Following the discovery, the researchers began a number of studies to try and figure out what attracts many different species of sharks and rays to this part of the Irish coast.
The scientists expect their work in the region will continue for another 18 months.
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Shark video: The sharks tend to spend their time close to the seabed (Image: GETTY)
Shark video: Very little is still known about these sharks (Image: GETTY)
According to the experts, the Irish coastal waters are chockfull of basking sharks and sixgills.
Ireland is also home to the world’s biggest skate and critically endangered species, flapper skate.
For this reason and others, shark researchers from all over the globe are flocking to Ireland.
One of these shark experts is Dr Nick Payne, who left Australia where he studied great whites and tiger sharks.
Dr Payne, Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “It’s like an aquatic Jurassic Park out there! Ireland is the gateway to the Atlantic and we are increasingly amazed at how important Irish waters seem to be for these huge shark and ray species.
“It means we in Ireland have a responsibility to look after them.
“Only by working together with commercial and sports fishers, conservation bodies and government agencies, citizen naturalists and the marine technology industry can we begin to realise and understand our great marine diversity – a heritage of all the people of Ireland.
“With this knowledge, we are better placed to manage the 90% of our state that currently lie underwater so that future generations can gasp in awe at the giants in our midst.”
Dr Patrick Collins, Lecturer at Queens University Belfast, added: “We are going to need a bigger boat… to come back here next year and collect more data – we have only just scratched below the surface.”