Photo: Rebecca-Belleni-Photography via Getty Images
The basking shark is the second largest living fish in the world and can be found swimming near the surface of temperate and tropical waters all around the globe.
These gentle giants are known for swimming close to the surface of the water, making them an easy target for predators. Let's learn more about these amazing creatures!
Description and Appearance
Photo: Rebecca-Belleni-Photography via Getty Images
The Basking Shark is the second largest living fish in the world, behind only the Whale Shark. Despite its intimidating size, the basking shark poses no threat to humans and is generally considered harmless.
Basking sharks can grow up to 30 feet long and weigh up to 9000 pounds! They have torpedo-shaped bodies and large, flat heads. The tail is long and slender, with a pair of large pectoral fins used for steering.
They have a small dorsal fin near their back's middle and a large caudal fin (tail fin) that helps them propel through the water. Their skin is a pale gray or greenish-brown, and they have small eyes.
The mouth is wide, with hundreds of tiny teeth arranged in rows. Basking sharks often swim near the surface and filter-feed on plankton and small fish.
Although it is a slow-moving creature, the basking shark is a powerful swimmer, using its huge tail to propel itself through the water.
It is an expert at filter-feeding, using its large mouth to scoop up plankton and small fish. The basking shark is found in waters worldwide, often near coastlines where food is abundant.
Basking sharks are very slow swimmers, averaging only 2-3 mph. They rely on their huge size to deter predators, and when threatened, they sometimes roll over onto their backs to expose their vulnerable underside.
The basking shark is one of the largest fish in the world, with some specimens reaching over 30 feet in length.
Despite their size, these gentle giants are filter feeders that primarily consume plankton.
To catch their food, they open their large mouths and swim slowly through the water with their jaws wide open.
They use their gill rakers (long, thin bones that extend from the gills) to strain plankton from the water.
A basking shark can filter up to 2,000 tons of water daily, resulting in a sizable meal of zooplankton, Krill, small fish, and other tiny marine creatures.
Basking sharks often swim near the water's surface with their mouths open, filter-feeding on the rich abundance of food.
Basking sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning the eggs develop and hatch inside the mother's body.
After a gestation period of 2-3 years, the female gives birth to 2-6 live pups.
Pups are typically about 4 feet long at birth and weigh around 60 pounds. Basking sharks reach sexual maturity at around 20 years old.
Males and females often travel long distances to find a mate. Once they have found a mate, the female will store the male's sperm in her oviducts until she is ready to fertilize her eggs.
The lifespan of a basking shark is unknown, but scientists believe it can live for over 50 years.
Basking sharks are slow-growing creatures, with some specimens taking up to 20 years to reach full size. Despite their large size and slow swimming speed, basking sharks are not immune to predators.
Their main predators are large sharks, such as the great white shark. Orcas (killer whales) also prey on basking sharks.
Basking sharks have very few natural predators, but they are sometimes killed by humans who mistake them for other, more dangerous sharks.
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Basking sharks are found in temperate and subtropical waters around the world. They tend to prefer areas with plenty of food, such as plankton-rich areas near the coast or at the mouths of rivers.
In the summer months, they often congregate in large groups near shore, where they can be seen basking in the sunlight or cruising slowly through the water.
While they are typically found in deep waters, basking sharks have been known to swim into shallow bays and even venture into rivers in search of food.
Although they are not currently endangered, basking sharks are at risk of being caught as bycatch by fisheries and from being struck by boats. As a result, conservation efforts are underway to protect these gentle giants.
The basking shark is classified as an "Endangered" species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is due to being killed in fisheries bycatch, harvested for liver oil, meat, and fins, and susceptible to fishing gear entanglement.
Although they were once hunted for their liver oil, fins, and meat, basking sharks are now protected in many areas.
Despite these protections, basking sharks are still at risk from accidental catches in fishing nets, pollution, and habitat loss. In some areas, their numbers have declined sharply due to these threats.
The IUCN advises continued monitoring of basking shark populations to ensure their conservation.
Basking sharks are gentle giants that play an important role in the marine ecosystem. These massive filter feeders help to keep the ocean waters clean and healthy.
They are also a keystone species, meaning that they help to support the entire marine food web. The loss of basking sharks could have a devastating ripple effect on the entire ocean ecosystem.
Fortunately, these amazing creatures are now protected in many areas, and their numbers are slowly starting to rebound. We can ensure that these gentle giants swim the oceans for generations with continued conservation efforts.
Other Interesting Facts
Here are ten fun facts about these fascinating creatures:
- Basking sharks are found in temperate waters worldwide, including along the coasts of North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan.
- These sharks are named for swimming slowly near the water's surface with their mouths open, a behavior is known as "Basking."
- Basking sharks have several rows of small teeth that filter plankton from the water.
- Although basking sharks are sometimes called "sleeper sharks," they are active swimmers and can travel long distances.
- Female basking sharks are typically larger than males and can live for up to 50 years.
- These sharks give birth to live young, and the typical litter size is six babies.
- Basking sharks are sometimes hunted for their meat, oil, and fins used in soup. However, their numbers have declined sharply due to overfishing.
- Although they may look frightening, basking sharks pose no threat to humans and are quite shy.
- Basking sharks filter-feed on small fish and plankton, which they strain from the water using their large gills.
- Due to their slow swimming speed and tendency to surface near boats, basking sharks have been involved in several collisions with vessels over the years. They are responsible for more vessel strikes than any other type of shark.
Basking sharks are gentle giants of the ocean that play an important role in the marine ecosystem.
These massive filter feeders help to keep the ocean waters clean and healthy. Although they were once hunted for their liver oil, fins, and meat, basking sharks are now protected in many areas.
Despite these protections, basking sharks are still at risk from accidental catches in fishing nets, pollution, and habitat loss.
In some areas, their numbers have declined sharply due to these threats. The IUCN advises continued monitoring of basking shark populations to ensure their conservation.
We can ensure that these gentle giants swim the oceans for generations with continued conservation efforts.