Newly-found sharks to feature at Galway Science and Tech Exhibition

The Marine Institute, based in Oranmore, hit the media headlines internationally, featuring in The Guardian, The Times, SKY News, BBC and Fox News, after 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.

This Sunday, members of the Marine Institute, INFOMAR and Explorers Education teams as well as Chief Scientist of the SeaRover Survey will be available at the shark-themed stand to chat about the recent discovery as well as giving 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.

The Galway Science and Technology Exhibition takes place in the Bailey Allen Hall, NUI Galway on Sunday November 25 from 10am to 6pm – Entry is free of charge and open to the public.

‘It was incredible, real David Attenborough stuff,” said David O’Sullivan, chief scientist for the SeaRover survey. “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 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. ‘

The exploration initiative was a collaboration jointly funded by the Irish Government (DAFM and DCHG ) and the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, supported by Marine Institute, NPWS, Geological Survey Ireland and NUI Galway.

If you are 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.

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