The basking shark is the second largest living shark, after the whale shark. It is a cosmopolitan species, found in all the world's temperate oceans. It is a slow moving and generally harmless filter feeder.
This shark is called the basking shark because it is most often observed when feeding at the surface and appears to be basking in the warmer water there. It is the only member of the family Cetorhinidae.
Range and habitat
The basking shark is a coastal-pelagic shark found worldwide in boreal to warm-temperate waters around the continental shelves. It prefers 8 to 14 °C (46 to 57 °F) temperatures, but recently has been confirmed to cross the much-warmer waters at the equator. It is often seen close to land, including bays with narrow openings. The shark follows plankton concentrations in the water column and is therefore often visible at the surface.
Anatomy and appearance
The largest accurately-measured specimen was trapped in a herring net in the Bay of Fundy, Canada in 1851. Its total length was 12.27 metres (40.3 ft), and it weighed an estimated 19 short tons (17 t).
Normally the basking shark reaches a length of between 6 metres (20 ft) and a little over 8 metres (26 ft). Some specimens surpass 9–10 metres (30–33 ft), but after years of large-scale fishing, specimens of this size have become rare.
They are slow-moving sharks (feeding at about 2 knots (3.7 km/h; 2.3 mph) and do not evade approaching boats (unlike great white sharks). They are harmless to humans if left alone and are not attracted to chum.
Even though the basking shark is large and slow, it can breach, jumping entirely out of the water.
Importance to humans
As a result of rapidly declining numbers, the basking shark has been protected and trade in its products restricted in many countries. It is fully protected in the UK, Ireland, Malta, Florida and US Gulf and Atlantic waters. Targeted fishing for basking sharks is illegal in New Zealand. Once considered a nuisance along the Canadian Pacific coast, basking sharks were the target of a government eradication program there from 1945 to 1970. As of 2008, efforts are underway to determine if any sharks still live in the area and monitor their potential recovery.