‘We had just arrived and we saw a rush of people towards the shoreline’

The basking sharks (circled) close to the shoreline in Achill

A KILLARNEY man on a staycation in the west of Ireland could scarcely believe what he was witnessing when he spotted two sharks patrolling the waters immediately adjacent to swimmers frolicking on a beach.

Fergal O’Shea, from Pallas, Beaufort, had just arrived at the picturesque strand in Keem Bay in Achill last Thursday when he was alerted by screaming bathers.

He filmed the scene on his smartphone and uploaded the recording to social media which grabbed nationwide attention.

“We had just arrived and we saw a rush of people towards the shoreline,” said Fergal who said the sharks were about six metres in length.

Fergal O’Shea: “We had just arrived and we saw a rush of people towards the shoreline”

Their dorsal fins were protruding above the water very close to the shore and there were people kayaking and swimming in the vicinity.

“There was a lot of kids shouting and screaming but people were more fascinated than frightened,” Fergal (27) added.

There were up to 50 or 60 people on the shoreline at the time and it soon became apparent that it was basking sharks that had made their presence known.

Fergal said the sheer size of them was quite intimidating and he certainly wasn’t going to enter the water while they were visible for what was only a few minutes.

“Five or 10 minutes after that, people were back in the water again,” Fergal added.

Despite their large size and threatening appearance, basking sharks are not aggressive and are usually harmless to humans

Hayley Dalton, a PHD student of zoology at Trinity College Dublin, said Ireland’s waters are probably one of the best places to see basking sharks – second in size only to the whale shark – but they are not very dangerous although people need to be very careful around them as they are very large and powerful.

“They are not going to hunt you down and try and eat you,” she said, adding that basking sharks feed mainly on plankton,” Hayley told Newstalk Radio.

The dorsal fin of a basking shark is generally more rounded that other species and they come close to the shoreline in search of invertebrates.

“Keep calm if you’re swimming. Don’t swim after them and don’t chase after them or block them into the coastline,” Hayley advised.