ASTONISHING DRONE footage has captured the moment a school of basking sharks began circling a rigid inflatable boat off the Co Clare Coast.
The incredible video was captured by researchers from the Irish Basking Shark Group, who were aboard the vessel that ended up surrounded by the giant sharks.
In the clip, as many as nine sharks can be seen approaching the boat before they begin swimming round and round it in a way which, to the uninitiated, could be cause for concern.
But despite the close proximity of the fish, which rank as the second largest living species of shark on the planet, the scientists were unperturbed.
That’s largely down to the fact basking sharks are largely harmless to human, as one of three plankton-eating shark species.
Furthermore, the usual behaviour demonstrated in the clip is actually thought to represent a primitive type of courtship.
It’s also not uncommon to see basking sharks feeding in this particular area of the sea off the coast of Clare in the spring.
Dr Simon Berrow, a scientist from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG), described the movements as “methodical, orchestrated behaviour, as if they were doing synchronised swimming."
"But we realised immediately that they were not feeding. This was something else, something special," Dr Berrow told RTE.
According to the IBSG’s research, nose-to-tail following, breaching and parallel swimming like the kind witnessed in the footage could be linked to courtship.
Little is known about the reproduction cycles of basking sharks.
Dr Berrow and his team of researchers is hoping to change that by collecting further DNA samples.
This latest close encounter provided a perfect opportunity to do just that.
"This spring we collected over 60 samples from sharks off West Clare. So to get a further opportunity to take more samples, in the same location but at a different time of the year, was just too good to miss," Dr Berrow said.
"By using the drone, we were also able to get a fantastic perspective of the shark from above. We were on a 6m rib and estimate that they were 6-8m in length. It was just such a humbling experience. Everyone on board will remember it."