Rare 14ft shark washed up on Wexford shore

4 Apr 2023

The smalltooth sand tiger shark is known for its distinctive snout and teeth and is rarely encountered by humans. Image: Dr Jenny Bortoluzzi and Kevin Purves

This smalltooth sand tiger shark is at the upper end of the recorded size limits of this species and will provide ‘invaluable’ data about these vulnerable animals.

A rare shark has been found on the shoreline of Co Wexford, which could be the first time the species has appeared in Irish waters according to scientists.

The huge 14ft smalltooth sand tiger shark washed up at Kilmore Quay over the weekend, before being found by a Swiss tourist when walking along the shore on Saturday, 2 April.

The shark species – Odontaspis ferox – is rarely encountered by humans because it is normally distributed in deep water.

Scientists said it’s a surprise to see one of these sharks so far north, as they were thought to be distributed only as far north as the Bay of Biscay in the eastern Atlantic.

Shark biologist Dr Nicholas Payne, an assistant professor in Trinity College Dublin, was notified by the Swiss tourist Martin before rushing to the site with a team.

“I couldn’t believe it when I got this random email from Martin, because as soon as I saw the photos he sent I knew we had to get down there urgently to sample this rare animal,” Payne said.

A man and a woman on either side of a large shark, which is washed up on a beach.

Dr Nicholas Payne and Dr Jenny Bortoluzzi with the shark in Co Wexford. Image: Dr Jenny Bortoluzzi and Dr Kevin Purves

Payne and others rushed to the site to take as many measurements as possible to learn more about the rare animal and potentially find out why it died. The team included PhD candidate Haley Dolton and University College Dublin scientist Dr Kevin Purves.

Smalltooth sand tiger sharks are currently assessed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The species is not specifically targeted by commercial fisheries, but scientists said it still faces threats such as bycatch or from pollution.

A 6ft smalltooth sand tiger shark was found on a beach in the UK just two weeks before the Irish discovery.

“We all thought that was very strange at the time given the northerly location, but to see a second one here so soon after is a little concerning,” Payne said. “We will now do a number of tests to try to learn what might have caused this to happen and also to learn more about this species in general.”

The maximum recorded size for females of this species is roughly 15ft, which puts the Irish specimen at the upper end of recorded sizes.

Dr Jenny Bortoluzzi – who helped with the dissection – said the samples will be “invaluable” to increasing the knowledge of the biology and ecology of these rare sharks.

“It’s also wonderful that a member of the public contacted us because it shows increasing awareness, and we hope this encourages more people to get in touch in the future should they come across something similar,” Bortoluzzi said.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic