The Oceans Gentle Giant: The Basking Shark


The (not so) lean, mean, plankton eating machine

The Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second biggest shark in the world and is completely harmless. They eat tiny little creatures that live at the oceans surface, called plankton. They don’t even use teeth to feed! So I suppose you could think of them as elderly care home residents, searching the seas for soft foods. You know, if that kind of random thought brings you joy in life. Any who, I have a spot of audience participation for you reader (I know exciting right?). So, who would like to pretend to be a feeding basking shark? To participate all you have to do is open your mouth and keep it open like a basking shark (it will be a comical sight for whoever you’re with). The Basking Shark has a metre wide mouth which they keep open all the time they are swimming, so that they can catch tiny morsels of food, floating near the oceans surface. Then, to filter the water to extract food they close their mouths and let the water pass out through their gills, retaining the food to go down their throats and into their bellies. Now confession time, I closed my mouth  after about 10 seconds. I’m not  a basking shark, its tiring! and they have the advantage of being specially adapted to live that way.

Lets move on to basking shark behaviour shall we? Little is known about basking shark natural history, but what we do know is they are usually seen in the summer months, feeding at the waters surface. This is why some people think they were given the name Baking Shark. They have also been known to swim in schools of up to 100 sharks. Basking sharks are known to be ovoviviparous (Which means that the female produces eggs, which hatch internally, rather then externally like with crocs.) The gestation (so length of time these eggs are carried in the females body for) are unknown, it is thought they could gestate for 2-3 years given the animals size. Though, basking sharks are known to live up to 50 years (So, they could really be the elderly care home residents of the sea).

Giant Fish Facts

Fins: Can reach 2 – 3 meters long (wow!)

Tail: Shape of a crescent moon

Liver: Is 20% of the sharks body weight

Weight: around 3,000 – 6,000 kilograms

Length: Around 6.7 -8.8 metres

Habitat: Lives in cold, temperate waters off continental shelves and range shifts to were the food is. Their lives really do revolve around food. Well it has to, a creature that large eating food that tiny!

Classified vulnerable

The Basking shark is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red list of endangered species. This is because they are fished for the value put on their oil, fins and liver and indeed their populations took a series decline 20 years ago and have not yet recovered. Though thankfully some countries such as; the UK and New Zealand have chosen to protect them. Which is great news!  We can’t let an amazing creature such as this become lost from our oceans.

Most shark species are under researched and are in need of conservation assistance. This is why in 4 days, I am facing my fear of deep water to raise money and awareness for shark conservation. Check out my Just giving page (as hyperlinked) if you want to check out my story, but no pressure. I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about the basking shark as much as I enjoyed writing this post! Please join me tomorrow evening when I will be blogging about the bramble shark.


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