Drone footage of a rare shark nursery, found 200 miles off west of Ireland, has been revealed. It's being called a discovery on a "scale not previously documented in Irish waters."
The footage showed off a large concentration of uncased shark eggs, alongside swarms of blackmouth catsharks, which suggests the eggs themselves were of the same species.
The discovery was made during the most recent survey by the Marine Institute's remotely operated vehicle Holland 1 as part of the INFOMAR programme, a joint venture between the Marine Institute (MI) and Geological Survey of Ireland, jointly funded by the Irish government and the EU's European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. The goal of INFOMAR is to create "integrated mapping products of the physical, chemical and biological features of the seabed in the near-shore area."
This shark nursery was found during a three week "Searover" (Sensitive Ecosystem Analysis and ROV Exploration of Reef habitat) survey, which took place in July.
"This discovery shows the significance of documenting sensitive marine habitats, and will give us a better understanding of the biology of these beautiful animals and their ecosystem function in Ireland's Biologically Sensitive Area," explained David O'Sullivan, Chief Scientist on the Searover survey.
"It was incredible," he continued, speaking to The Guardian, "real David Attenborough stuff. This is a major biological find and a story of this magnitude would have been on Blue Planet if they'd known about it," he said. "Very, very little is known on a global scale about deep-sea shark nurseries."
The eggs had been laid on dead coral skeletons. According to the above video, coral reefs can provide refuge for newly born sharks.
In addition to the huge numbers of blackmouth catsharks, the drone also managed to capture footage of the rare Sailfin roughshark, a species which could potentially be there to forage the egg cases.
The Searover survey was the second of three planned surveys. The team hope to go back next year in an attempt to get footage of the eggs hatching.
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