This is one animal I am definitely jealous my friends in the UK get to dive with. They are the largest fish in British waters, reaching lengths up to 12 meters, and re-appear each spring and summer. They are second to only the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), and also a plankton-feeding shark species (the other two being the whale shark and megamouth shark).
So how can you identify these animals in their native habitat?
Well, first, look for the largest fish there. Once found, if it’s a giant, grey-blue-green color with a pale underside and its mouth is gaping open, it’s probably a basking shark. A special characteristic is their nose- it’s funny shaped.
They are slow swimmers, too, making them popular sharks to dive with. They swim kind of funny, too, moving their entire bodies from side to side.
Overexploitation has reduced its populations to the point where some have disappeared; they are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable (V). Once heavily targeted for their liver oil, meat and fins, these animals are now protected in all four Devolved Administrations. However, little is known about these animals, mainly because they spend most of their lives deep underwater. Plankton blooms occur in May-October along western UK, giving scientists a perfect opportunity to learn about these animals, seeing as these big lugs are ALL over those noms.
If you’re in the western coast of Scotland, or northern part of Ireland, they’ve been spotted there too, so keep an extra look out!
As filter feeders, their hundreds of little teeth are of little use. Instead, they use their gill rakers to filter through the water and their food. This includes anything from plankton to baby fish to fish eggs.
Not much is known about basking sharks and their social lives, but they have been seen swimming alone, with a pair and in giant schools of up to 100 members.
The gestation period is longer than 3 years, too.
(To all my pregnant readers, be thankful you are not a basking shark)
The widely accepted theory is that the basking shark is ovoviviparous. Females probably give birth to 1-2 live young, which are about 1.5-1.8 m(5-6 ft).
- 1993 - It was reported that the global population of basking sharks had dropped by 80% since the 1950's.
- 1995 - A Barcelona Convention Protocol added the basking shark to its list of Threatened Species.
- 1997 - The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service banned the fishing for basking sharks in US Federal Atlantic waters.
- April 1998 - The British Government moved to protect the basking shark under Appendix II of CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of flora and fauna). This request demanded that countries that traded basking shark keep detailed records, helping scientists in determining whether the fishery was sustainable or not.
- October 2000 - U.S. Departments of Commerce and Interior support UK movement to protect basking sharks.
- November 2000 - AFS (American Fisheries Society) lists the population of basking sharks in the western Atlantic as conservation dependent (reduced but stabilized or recovering under a continuing conservation plan) and vulnerable in the eastern Pacific.
- Presently - The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) is planning to establish international shark fishery management strategies for a number of species, including the basking shark.
The perfect holiday/birthday present for a fellow shark lover! Actually, if my SO gifted me an adopted shark for our anniversary/my birthday/a holiday I’d be the happiest girl ever.
Have a little bonus video- you can see a basking shark in its natural habitat (start at around 3:18 to JUST see the basking sharks):