Basking Shark Scientific Classification
KingdomAnimaliaPhylumChordataClassChondrichthyesOrderLamniformesFamilyCetorhinidaeGenusCetorhinusScientific NameCetorhinus Maximus
Basking Shark Conservation Status
Basking Shark Locations
Basking Shark Facts
Main PreyFish, Plankton, InvertebratesDistinctive FeatureEnormous mouth and large body sizeWater Type
Optimum pH Level5 – 7HabitatTemperate waters along continental shelvesPredatorsSharks, Humans, Killer WhalesDietCarnivoreFavorite FoodFishCommon NameBasking SharkAverage Clutch Size6SloganThe second biggest fish in the world!
Basking Shark Physical Characteristics
Skin TypeSmoothLifespan20 – 100 yearsLength6m – 12m (20ft – 39ft)
Basking Shark Images
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Basking sharks, also known as bone sharks, may have an intimidating appearance and massive size that could easily frighten nearby swimmers or divers, but they are essentially harmless as far as humans and aquatic animals are concerned. Much like whales, these sharks feed on plankton and other tiny life forms by filtering vast amounts of ocean water through their mouths. They routinely cruise or even float along the surface with their mouths hanging open as they gather food. They are the second-largest known shark species and one of only three sharks that rely on plankton as a food source.
4 Incredible Basking Shark Facts!
- Filtration experts: Their massive size and large mouth allows these sharks to filter thousands of gallons of water per hour.
- Mouth agape: These sharks tend to swim with their big mouth hanging wide open, which can be intimidating to divers who don’t know better.
- Slow breeders: These sharks are particularly slow at reproducing and may take up to 3 years to be born after conception.
- Breach potential: Unlike most sharks, basking sharks are known to leap completely out of the water much like whales.
Basking Shark Classification and Scientific Name
Aside from the name basking shark, which they’ve earned through their habit of floating gently along the ocean’s surface, these massive animals are also known as bone sharks or elephant sharks. Their scientific name is Cetorhinus maximus. Cetorhinus is taken from the Greek words meaning “sea monster” and “nose,” while maximus means biggest or greatest in size. Thus the Basking Shark is one of the biggest fish in the world. The species is part of the Cetorhinidae family in the Chondrichthyes class.
Basking Shark Appearance
This shark species is one of the most easily recognized by external appearance alone due to its notable size and distinct features. The average adult shark can extend up to 26 feet long from nose to tail with some individuals reported to reach lengths of over 40 feet. Their great size is also accompanied by comparable mass, with an average mass of roughly 8,500 pounds. Their coloration ranges from a lighter brownish gray to nearly black with the potential for mottled or pale skin as well.
Basking sharks have distinct gills that nearly encircle their entire body. Their gills are equipped with gill rakers, which are filament-like growths along the gills that catch plankton from the water passing through the slits. While their other physical features generally resemble other large shark species, like the great white, they sport a crescent shaped tail fin that gives them another unique hallmark to distinguish them from their predatory cousins.
These sharks typically leave their massive mouth hanging wide open to maximize water intake as they slowly swim or float with the current. Their mouths are full of dozens of rows of tiny hooked teeth that can number well into the thousands. Their motion and feeding are relatively passive, although they can completely breach the surface of the water and engage in more rigorous swimming when threatened.
Basking Shark Distribution, Population, and Habitat
Geographically, the basking shark has a massive distribution that covers vast stretches of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. They prefer cool to temperate climates, so their range does not include Arctic, Antarctica or tropical locations. However, they may pass through tropical waters during their long migratory trajectories that can extend for thousands of miles. They are encountered along the west coast of North and South America as well as much of the European, Australian and South African coastline.
Exact population numbers are unknown and can only be estimated by location, but the species is considered endangered by conservationists. There are an estimated 10,000 individuals in Atlantic Canada, which is one of their prime feeding grounds. Targeting by commercial fisheries as recently as the 1950s caused a noticeable decline in worldwide population that has yet to recover. Their extremely slow maturation process and long gestation period combined with frequency of human encounters are leading factors in population decline.
Basking Shark Predators and Prey
Predators: What Eats Basking Sharks?
Their massive size makes them virtually immune to natural predators, but they are particularly vulnerable to humans. Their easy availability on the water’s surface, passive nature and high historical population made them a tempting target for fisheries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These sharks are also susceptible to parasites like sea lampreys and cookie-cutter sharks.
Prey: Facts About Basking Shark Feeding
Basking sharks are adapted to feed on marine zooplankton, which are the myriad of microscopic organisms and larvae that live in ocean water. They are typically available in greater abundance near the surface, where there is sunlight, or near the bottom along the substrate. The sharks typically rely on currents and their slow swimming motion to force water into their mouth and through their gills so they can snag their food, occasionally closing their mouth to ingest quantities of trapped prey.
Basking Shark Reproduction and Lifespan
Basking sharks usually move into shallower coastal waters when they are preparing to reproduce, which usually occurs between May and July. Individuals may have different partners throughout a single breeding season. Aerial and direct observation by researchers indicates complex courtship and mating procedures between adult sharks. A combination of synchronized swimming, biting and nudging may serve as part of the ritual.
Basking sharks can live for over 30 years in the wild and some experts believe their lifespan could reach up to 50 years. However, it takes an estimated 12 to 16 years for females to mature to the point where they can reproduce. While facts regarding reproduction in this species is limited to few observations and specimens, researchers believe that they have a gestation period of around 3 years and give birth to litters of around 6 pups.
Basking Shark in Fishing and Cooking
Historically, basking sharks served as an important source of raw meat and fishmeal, as well as leather from their skin and oil extracted from their liver. Some modern fisheries still target them for their fins, a key ingredient in shark fin soup, and for various internal parts that are prized in local traditional medicines, particularly in Asia. However, many countries have imposed a moratorium on fishing due to a substantial ongoing decline in global population.
Basking Shark Population
Overall population numbers for this species is not known due to their wide depth range and extreme migration potential. However, researchers have been reporting fewer sightings in many native habitats and the species is considered endangered and at serious risk of further decline. The shark’s slow maturation and reproductive rate combined with its susceptibility to intentional and unintentional fishing are serious threats to long-term viability.