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three basking sharks in irish waters near Kilkee
Photo by Simon Berrow

I don’t know if it’s the fact that human activity has slowed down drastically or if it is the fact that we have slowed down so that we have the space and time to actually pay attention, but it feels like there is way more wildlife around at the moment. From things as simple as the extra bird song in the early hours of the day to things as epic as the number of basking shark interactions on the west coast this year, it feels like wildlife is making a come back!

From the very early days of the lock down in China and Italy we started to see reports of wildlife coming into the cities. Sadly, these early events have proven to be mostly false. However, as the lock downs have spread and human activities have ground to a halt across the globe, these animal events have started to become real. Like the reports of the sea turtles nesting on Indian beaches after seven years absence. Apparently this isn’t a direct link to the lockdown (See this article for more on this topic) but similar coincidences seem to be happening all over. Another such example are the dolphins, once again swimming, in the seas of the Bosphorus, usually one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.

a bird flying over a large body of water

Here is a fun BBC article about some of the other sightings from around the world!

But things are happening closer to home too. The number of sightings of basking sharks spotted near the Irish coasts seem much higher than in previous years. I’ve heard experts attribute this more to the fine weather we’ve been having than the lack of human activity, but again, such events are happening the world over.

After casual conversation with many different people, whom we know well, each and every one of them have individually mentioned an otter they saw while out on their daily walk, happening in many different places around the county on many different days. Otters are usually extremely wary of humans with sightings being rare enough. It sounds to me like they are venturing a little further, feeling a little safer now that fewer humans are around.

We saw an otter recently when we were out one glorious morning. It was about 9am, the sun was shining bright, the wind was barely a breath, and there among the rocks, basking in the calm sea, was a silky brown body twisting and curling, sliding through the water. It looked like it was absolutely loving life!

a man in a blue jacket standing in front of a bunch of cows in ireland

We’ve even started to notice the different moods of the sheep and cows in our local area. On our way into Tralee yesterday morning we saw a herd of cattle bathing in the morning sunshine. They looked truly delighted with themselves. However, while we were in town the weather changed for the worse. On our way back home, the wind was just starting to howl and the rain was pelting down. We saw the same herd standing as close together as possible, huddled under a bush for the small amount of shelter it could provide. This time, life didn’t look so good and the cows’ moroseness was palpable.

But back to the original question, I suppose it is a combination of the two. In the instance of the dolphins playing in the Bosphorus, it is clearly a matter of humans stopping their mad dash to and fro. In the instance of the local farm animals, it’s a matter of us slowing down enough to become empathetic with the animals and their situation.

All in all, I love that we are giving wildlife a little more space to flourish. I truly hope that we can continue this trend when we do start to move around again. We have a wonderful opportunity to rethink and rework how we all live our lives. As we start to open up once more, I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that we take this opportunity and start making the more sustainable, holistic choice. It’s a chance we didn’t take 100 years ago, but it’s an option that might genuinely save the planet for all of us in the years to come, the humans and animals alike.

a poem by kitty o'meara from the 1918 flu pandemic