News from the Marine Institute, based in Oranmore, Co. Galway recently hit the headlines internationally, featuring in The Guardian, The Times, SKY news, BBC and Fox News; about the incredible discovery of Ireland's very own rare deep-water shark nursery in Irish waters, 200 miles off the west coast of Ireland. The find is being hailed as a "eureka" moment — the biggest shark nursery ever found in Irish waters.
Members of the Marine Institute, INFOMAR and Explorers Education teams as well as Chief Scientist of the SeaRover Survey will be at the Galway Science and Technology Festival (25th November) highlighting the recent discovery. The shark themed stand will also provide children and their families an insight into the life of a marine scientist, what seabed mapping involves and how this led to the discovery of the rare shark nursery off the west coast of Ireland.
'It was incredible, real David Attenborough stuff,' David O'Sullivan, chief scientist for the SeaRover survey told the Guardian. 'This is a major biological find and a story of this magnitude would have been on 'Blue Planet' if they'd known about it. Very, very little is known on a global scale about deep-sea shark nurseries.'
The SeaRover suvey, using the Marine Institute's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Holland 1 onboard the research vessel - ILV Granuaile, took place during the summer 2018 off the Irish coast, which led to the discovery of a rare shark nursery on a scale not previously recorded in Irish waters. These findings show the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats and will assist in a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland's Biologically Sensitive Area.
While exploring deep-water coral reef systems as part of the SeaRover survey the shark nursery was discovered. Very large numbers of egg cases were observed on the seafloor at depths of 750 metres. Such large concentrations of egg cases, commonly called mermaids purses, are very rare and indicate females may gather in this particular area on the seafloor to lay their eggs.
A large school of Blackmouth catshark, abundant in the northeast Atlantic were present at the site, and it is likely the eggs are of this species. A second more unusual and solitary species, the Sailfin roughshark was also observed. 'Both species are of scientific interest as Ireland has an obligation to monitor deepwater sharks under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive,' said Maurice Clarke from the Fisheries Ecosystem Advisory Services at the Marine Institute.
The Sailfin roughshark is listed as 'Near Threatened' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature meaning it may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future. The species grows up to a length of 1.2 m and is usually observed moving slowly with deep water currents feeding on small benthic invertebrates.
'Our key objective is to assess, protect and monitor Ireland's rich offshore marine biodiversity so we can begin to manage our marine resources effectively. Without a knowledge of what lives in our seas we are at risk of never fully understanding and appreciating Ireland's marine environment" said David O'Sullivan.
The high resolution deep sea mapping dataset was acquired as part of the national seabed mapping programme –Integrated Mapping For the Sustainable Development of Ireland's Marine Resource (INFOMAR). This was used to target potential locations of reef habitat for this survey by identifying specific seabed morphological features likely to support cold water coral.
The exploration initiative was a collaboration jointly funded by the Irish Government (DAFM & DCHG) and the EU's European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, supported by Marine Institute, NPWS, Geological Survey Ireland and NUI Galway.
If you're interested in learning more about the discovery of the Sailfin sharks, the Marine Institute, INFOMAR team and Explorers Education team will be at the Galway Science and Technology Exhibition telling their stories about sharks and seabed mapping in Ireland - You'll find them at the back of the Bailey Allen Hall, NUIGalway in sharky waters 10am to 6pm – Entry is free of charge and open to the public.