We usually find basking sharks cruising leisurely below the surface of the sea. But this new footage captured off the Irish coast shows them engaging in an activity rarely witnessed by anyone: breaching!

Climbing and adventure guide Bren Whelan filmed the leaps recently at Malin Head, Ireland's most northerly point and a known hotspot not just for basking sharks, but also whales and dolphins. "I witnessed over 300 basking shark breaches, that's a truly outstanding amount," he told Independent Travel. "At times the same shark would breach repeatedly, between two to four times in a row – which is completely unheard of.”   

Basking sharks might be one of the largest fish in the sea (second only to whale sharks), but like their bigger cousins, these giants are perfectly harmless. As filter feeders, they swim passively through the water with their mouths open to devour zooplankton, something the crew at Basking Shark Scotland finds particularly fascinating. “It’s mind-boggling when you think about the energy involved in such an activity. For a shark that can weigh numerous tonnes and one that consumes plankton as their sole meal, how can they afford to use such a vast amount of energy to propel their huge bodies out of the water?”

The team explains that the prevailing explanation for the breaching behaviour is that it helps the sharks get rid of parasites. It could also have something to do with courtship.

Whatever the reason, one thing's for sure: there’s nothing quite as cool as watching a six metre (20ft) animal launching itself into the air. 

Top header image: Patrick Rasenberg, Flickr