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Wexford Primary School Pupils Sink Their Teeth into Sharks on RTÉ’s news2day

4th November 2020
Fifth and sixth class pupils at St Patrick’s NS in Craanford, Co Wexford show off their shark-related art Fifth and sixth class pupils at St Patrick’s NS in Craanford, Co Wexford show off their shark-related art Credit: Padraic Creedon

Fifth and sixth class pupils at St Patrick’s National School in Craanford, Co Wexford had the opportunity to share their knowledge of sharks with RTÉ’s children’s news programme news2day this afternoon (Wednesday 4 November).

The youngsters recently took part in a project on the fearsome fish with the Marine Institute’s Explorers Education Programme, learning more about the sharks found in Irish waters and around the world.

Explorers outreach officer Padraic Creedon worked with teacher Jackie Cousins and her class as they were inspired by stories such as the discovery of a rare shark nursery 200 miles off the west coast of Ireland.

“Working with the Wexford class from my Galway base has been one of my highlights this year,” Creedon said.

“Seeing their work, from the shark frame on their classroom door to the detailed sculptures and art work of various Irish sharks created by the students, was fantastic.

“The children’s work showing the basking shark, which is found in Irish waters and the second largest shark in the world, was a particular favourite of mine.

Shark diorama by pupils at St Patrick’s NS (Photo: Padraic Creedon)Shark diorama by pupils at St Patrick’s NS | Photo: Padraic Creedon

“This all highlighted the importance of engaging in ocean exploration and creating ocean champions at primary school level,” added Creedon, who also works at Galway Atlantaquaria.

“Connecting with the children on line and in the class with Padraic generated huge excitement for us all,” said their teacher Jackie Cousins. “The children's enthusiasm to learn about sharks helped us incorporate a range of subjects in the class from science and English to the arts.

“The Explorers approach with the class also gave the children a voice, where they were able to lead the discussion about sharks and what they wanted to learn.

“This sense of collective engagement as well as doing their own research opened up an amazing sense of discovery, where they have excelled and produced some incredible work, from writing facts and stories about sharks to producing a series of posters and artwork.”

Mícheál Ó Scannáil, the news2day presenter who interviewed the class in his home county, was also struck by the children’s enthusiasm for sharks and their ocean habitat.

“We had great fun in Craanford and the kids and Padraic taught me a lot about sharks. I still don't know if I’d hop in the sea with them, though!”

The segment featuring the pupils of St Patricks’s NS begins at 2m40s into today’s edition of news2day on the RTÉ website HERE.

Published in Sharks, Marine Wildlife
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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Sharks in Irish waters

Irish waters are home to 71 species of shark, skates and rays, 58 of which have been studied in detail and listed on the Ireland Red List of Cartilaginous fish. Irish sharks range from small Sleeper sharks, Dogfish and Catsharks, to larger species like Frilled, Mackerel and Cow sharks, all the way to the second largest shark in the world, the Basking shark. 

Irish waters provide a refuge for an array of shark species. Tralee Bay, Co. Kerry provides a habitat for several rare and endangered sharks and their relatives, including the migratory tope shark, angel shark and undulate ray. This area is also the last European refuge for the extremely rare white skate. Through a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) project, Marine Institute scientists have been working with fishermen to assess the distribution, diversity, and monthly relative abundance of skates and rays in Tralee, Brandon and Dingle Bays.

“These areas off the southwest coast of Ireland are important internationally as they hold some of the last remaining refuges for angel shark and white skate,” said Dr Maurice Clarke of the Marine Institute. “This EMFF project has provided data confirming the critically endangered status of some species and provides up-to-date information for the development of fishery measures to eliminate by-catch.” 

Irish waters are also home to the Black Mouthed Catshark, Galeus melastomus, one of Ireland’s smallest shark species which can be found in the deep sea along the continental shelf. In 2018, Irish scientists discovered a very rare shark-nursery 200 nautical miles off the west coast by the Marine Institute’s ROV Holland 1 on a shelf sloping to 750 metres deep. 

There are two ways that sharks are born, either as live young or from egg casings. In the ‘case’ of Black Mouthed Catsharks, the nursery discovered in 2018, was notable by the abundance of egg casings or ‘mermaid’s purses’. Many sharks, rays and skate lay eggs, the cases of which often wash ashore. If you find an egg casing along the seashore, take a photo for Purse Search Ireland, a citizen science project focusing on monitoring the shark, ray and skate species around Ireland.

Another species also found by Irish scientists using the ROV Holland 1 in 2018 was a very rare type of dogfish, the Sail Fin Rough Shark, Oxynotus paradoxus. These sharks are named after their long fins which resemble the trailing sails of a boat, and live in the deep sea in waters up to 750m deep. Like all sharks, skates and rays, they have no bones. Their skeleton is composed of cartilage, much like what our noses and ears are made from! This material is much more flexible and lighter than bone which is perfect for these animals living without the weight of gravity.

Throughout history sharks have been portrayed as the monsters of the sea, a concept that science is continuously debunking. Basking sharks were named in 1765 as Cetorhinus maximus, roughly translated to the ‘big-nosed sea monster’. Basking sharks are filter feeders, often swimming with their mouths agape, they filter plankton from the water.

They are very slow moving and like to bask in the sun in shallow water and are often seen in Irish waters around Spring and early Summer. To help understand the migration of these animals to be better able to understand and conserve these species, the Irish Basking Shark Group have tagged and mapped their travels.

Remarkably, many sharks like the Angel Shark, Squatina squatina have the ability to sense electricity. They do this via small pores in their skin called the ‘Ampullae of Lorenzini’ which are able to detect the tiny electrical impulses of a fish breathing, moving or even its heartbeat from distances of over a kilometre! Angel sharks, often referred to as Monkfish have a distinctively angelic shape, with flattened, large fins appearing like the wings of an angel. They live on the seafloor in the coastal waters of Ireland and much like a cat are nocturnal, primarily active at night.

The intricate complexity of shark adaptations is particularly noticeable in the texture of their skin. Composed of miniscule, perfectly shaped overlapping scales, the skin of shark provides them with protection. Often shark scales have been compared to teeth due to their hard enamel structure. They are strong, but also due to their intricate shape, these scales reduce drag and allow water to glide past them so that the shark can swim more effortlessly and silently. This natural flawless design has been used as inspiration for new neoprene fabric designs to help swimmers glide through the water. Although all sharks have this feature, the Leafscale Gulper Shark, Centrophorus squamosus, found in Ireland are specifically named due to the ornate leaf-shape of their scales.

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