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Basking Shark Facts and Photos on this Gentle Giant Becoming Endangered

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The basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, is a massive filter feeding shark, and is the second largest shark after the whale shark, Rhincodon typus. They get their name from their feeding habit which is to cruise along the surface of the water with their mouth open to collect food, as if basking in the sun. Other names include sunfish, elephant shark, sailfish shark, and bigmouth shark.

Basking shark are typically found between 20 and 26 feet long. Females can grow up to 33 feet long, males up to 30 feet long, but due to years of over-fishing, animals this size have become very rare. The basking shark is a coastal pelagic shark found worldwide in temperate waters around the continental shelves. They are often seen close to land and will enter bays and estuaries. Basking sharks have few predators, but orcas and tiger sharks are known to feed on them. They are tolerant of people and will visit boats and divers in the water,  and are a feature for tourist boats.

Basking shark are social animals that can be found in pairs or in small schools usually segregated by sex, although schools of up to 100 have been reported. Basking shark are slow swimmers, rarely more than three miles per hour, and swim by moving their entire bodies from side to side. Their coloring varies widely, from dark brown to blue black on their upper surface, and fading to an off-white below.  They have a pointed snout, and a highly textured skin, which is often scarred by lampreys or cookie cutter sharks bites. The basking shark has an extremely large liver, running the entire length of the abdomen, and weighing up to 25% of its body weight. The liver is believed to help in buoyancy and energy storage.

Basking sharks are vulnerable to over-fishing, as they are slow swimming and passive.  They have been hunted worldwide for their meat,  their oil and livers are used as an aphrodisiac and in the cosmetic industry, and currently their fins are in demand for shark fin soup. Because of their slow rate of reproduction, there is a very depleted population in many areas of the world. Some countries have created  laws to protect the basking shark from further exploitation.

The IUCN categorizes the basking shark as “vulnerable” throughout its range, and “endangered” in the northeast Atlantic and in the north Pacific.

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Picture of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding, California, Pacific Ocean

Picture #: 010260

Stock photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, Cornwall, United Kingdom, North Atlantic

Picture #: 077147

Image of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, California, Pacific Ocean

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Photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, with parasitic lampreys, Petromyzon marinus, Bay of Fundy, Canada, North Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 006587

picture of a basking shark picture of a basking shark picture of a basking shark picture of a basking shark

Picture of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding in the ocean off Cornwall, United Kingdom, Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 048978

Stock photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding, note open gills, California, Pacific

Picture #: 077134

Image of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding, California, Pacific Ocean

Picture #: 077140

Photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding, Cornwall, United Kingdom, Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 010253

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Picture of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding on plankton at surface, California, Pacific Ocean

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Stock photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, fin, Isle of Mull, Scotland, Great Britain, Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 113328

Image of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding, Cornwall, United Kingdom, Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 096630

Photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, Bay of Fundy, Canada, North Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 006586

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Picture of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, head and face of Basking Shark, filter feeding on plankton, Isle of Man, Irish Sea

Picture #: 085014

Stock photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, Cornwall, United Kingdom, North Atlantic

Picture #: 010252

Image of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding, California, Pacific Ocean

Picture #: 010257

Photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding with mouth open, note large gills which filter food, Bay of Fundy, Canada, North Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 006591

picture of a basking shark picture of a basking shark picture of a basking shark picture of a basking shark

Picture of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, , swallowing, Bay of Fundy, Canada, North Atlantic Ocean

Picture #: 006592

Stock photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, feeding in the ocean off Cornwall, United Kingdom, North Atlantic

Picture #: 048962

Image of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, California, Pacific Ocean

Picture #: 010259

Photo of a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, Cornwall, United Kingdom, North Atlantic

Picture #: 070998

 

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