Basking sharks are Canada’s most endangered marine fish with its Pacific Ocean population almost extinct. (Nigel Motyer)

International study details ‘remarkable’ transatlantic voyage by basking shark

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Researchers at Canada’s Western University and Queen’s University Belfast in the U.K. have produced the second ever evidence of the endangered basking shark travelling across the Atlantic Ocean, prompting researchers to call for “an international mindset” in efforts to protect the species.

The transatlantic voyage by the female shark was detailed in a study published in the Journal of Fish Biology last month.

Basking sharks are Canada’s most endangered marine fish with its Pacific Ocean population almost extinct.

The last recorded evidence for transatlantic movement was gathered in 2008 when a female basking shark tagged with a tracking device moved from the Irish Sea to continental waters off the coast of Newfoundland, said a statement by Queen’s University Belfast.

According to Western University, images of another female basking shark were captured by an underwater photographer off the coast of Cape Cod almost three years after it was fitted with a satellite transmitter at Malin Head, the most northern point of Ireland.

“For this animal to show up across the ocean three years after it was tagged in Ireland highlights that we really need an international mindset when seeking to conserve this species,” said in a statement Jonathon Houghton, senior lecturer from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast and senior author.

Emmett Johnston, PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author on the study, said over 1,500 individual sharks have been equipped with either visual ID or satellite tags in the Atlantic. However, there had been just a single record of transoceanic movement, until now, Johnston added.

This new evidence offers invaluable information to help researchers better understand the movements of this endangered species within an international context, Johnston said.

“In the era of big data, it is amazing how much these fortuitous re-sightings of individual animals can tell us about an entire species,” said Paul Mensink of Western Univeristy and study co-author.

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