Basking Shark

Cetorhinus maximus

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These are one of the largest fish in the world, second only to their aptly-named cousin, the Whale Shark. Basking Sharks are very unusual-looking, with large heads that are almost completely encircled by gills. As their name implies, they are often found “basking” near the water’s surface, filtering krill and other zooplankton through their gaping mouths. The gills of the shark are lined with cartilaginous structures called “rakers” which help snag and hold food as they sweep through the water. Aside from their great size and large mouths, Basking Sharks can also be identified by a a hook-shaped snout and a large dorsal fin that can flop from one side to the other when out of the water. Due to their size and shape, they are often mistaken for Great White Sharks although they are more docile in temperament and do not pose any threat to human beings.

Range and Habitat

The Basking Shark can be found in both the northern and southern hemispheres, from the subarctic and subantarctic waters to temperate waters along the continental shelves. Because the sharks follow the ocean’s current, they often migrate over vast distances. Although they spend most of their time in the open ocean, they will venture closer to shore, sometimes even entering bays, as food sources change.

Conservation Status

Changes in ocean currents and weather may be encouraging unusual numbers of Basking Sharks to more Southern latitudes, rather than the Canadian waters where they are usually spotted. This may include the coastal waters of Oregon.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is particularly interested in this shark because it was recently listed as a “species of concern,” a designation that takes it one step closer to being labeled as “Threatened.” Basking Shark numbers are dwindling, despite long-standing and successful prohibitions against hunting them. By better monitoring the big fish’s movements along the West Coast, NOAA scientists hope to better understand their biology and possibly identify new threats to the species. Report your Basking Shark sightings to (858) 334-2884 or (831) 771-4438. Email: baskingshark@mlml.calstate.edu

Photo Credit: NOAA