The country’s largest coastal visitor, the basking shark, is set to be legalized as a protected wildlife.
The move comes after schools of sharks have drawn large crowds to various locations along the west coast over the past few summers.
Basking sharks, which can grow up to eight meters long, are planktonic and non-aggressive, but this has led to boats attempting to approach them.
Wildlife experts have warned that human interaction can stress the animals.
With their populations declining in many parts of the world, the groups that have settled in Irish waters need protection, they said.
Heritage Secretary Malcolm Noonan said he would add the basking shark to the list of protected animals under the Wildlife Act.
He also said a code of conduct for the ecotourism and wildlife viewing industry is being developed to ensure best practices from tour boat operators.
“Basking sharks are extraordinary creatures and they are facing increasing pressure from a number of sources, including disturbances,” he said.
“This move will give them legal protections in the short-term and enhance their protections in the long-term through the joint development of a code of conduct in support of best practices in sustainable ecotourism.”
Protection under the Wildlife Act makes it a criminal offense to hunt or injure a shark, or to disturb or destroy its breeding and roosting grounds.
The minister, who made the announcement on World Wildlife Day, commended the schoolchildren for the many petitions they had collected and urged him to act.
Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore, who has a private membership bill ahead of Dáil to get the basking shark included on the Wildlife Act’s protected list, said the announcement was very positive.
“It’s long overdue. Many people were surprised that they still had no protection. Hopefully it’ll be set up quickly before next season brings them back close to shore,” she said.
“The Irish Basking Shark Society and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group have done a lot of work collecting signatures and moving the issue forward, so I’m happy for them.”
Minister Noonan said the National Parks and Wildlife Service will work with the tourism industry to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities.
He said the Wildlife Act amendment would be completed “in the near future”.
https://www.independent.ie/news/environment/basking-shark-declared-protected-animal-in-irish-waters-in-change-to-wildlife-act-41408914.html Basking shark declared a protected animal in Irish waters in Amendment to the Wildlife Act