Basking Shark

From Academic Kids

Basking Shark
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Head of a basking shark
Scientific classification
Species:C. maximus
Binomial name
Cetorhinus maximus
(Gunnerus, 1765)

The Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus), also known as the Bone Shark, is the second largest fish alive, after the Whale Shark. A cosmopolitan species, Basking Sharks are found in all the world's temperate oceans. They are the only surviving member of their family, Cetorhinidae. It has however been suggested that the related Megamouth Shark (Megachasma pelagios) also belongs here.

Like other large sharks, Basking Sharks are at risk of extinction due to a combination of low resilience and overfishing through humankind's increasing demands for the sharks' flesh and organs: the flesh for food and fishmeal, the fins for shark fin soup, the hide for leather, and the liver for its oil. Parts are also used in traditional Chinese medicine and as an aphrodisiac in Japan, further adding to demand. As a result of rapidly declining numbers, the Basking Shark has been protected and trade in its products restricted in many countries.

The sharks are also of interest to pharmaceutical researchers as a possible source of anti-cancer drugs.


Physical description

Reported to reach a weight of six tonnes and maximum length of 15.2 metres (50 feet), but most often recorded at up to four tonnes and 9.8 metres (32 feet), Basking Sharks are one of the classic "sea monsters" of old. These sharks possess the typical lamniform body plan and have been mistaken for Great White Sharks: the two species can be easily distinguished, however, by the Basking's cavernous maw (up to a metre in width, held wide open whilst feeding), longer and more obvious gill slits (which nearly circle the entire head and are accompanied by well-developed gill rakers), smaller eyes, and usually smaller girth. Great Whites also possess large, dagger-like teeth, whilst those of the Basking Shark are greatly reduced (5-6 mm) and hooked; only the first 3-4 rows of the upper jaw and 6-7 rows of the lower are functional. There are also several behavioural differences between the two (see Behaviour).

Other distinctive characteristics of the Basking Shark include a strongly keeled caudal peduncle, highly textured skin covered in placoid scales and a layer of mucus, a pointed snout (which is distincly hooked in younger specimens), and a lunate caudal fin. Coloration is highly variable and likely dependent on observation conditions and the state of the animal itself: dark brown to black or blue dorsally fading to a dull white ventrally is a common description. The sharks are often noticeably scarred, possibly through encounters with lampreys or Cookie-cutter Sharks. The Basking Shark's liver, which may answer for 25% of the shark's body weight, runs the entire length of the abdominal cavity and is thought to play a role in buoyancy regulation and long-term energy storage.

In females, only the right ovary appears to be functional: if so, this is a unique characteristic among sharks.


Although Basking Sharks are often sighted close to land and in enclosed bays during warmer months, they are highly migratory and seem to disappear entirely during the fall and winter; during this time they remain at the bottom in deep water where they may hibernate and lose their gill rakers: this hypothesis is however disputed.

These sharks are named for their apparent basking behaviour; they feed at or close to the surface with their mouths wide open and gill rakers erect, indiscriminately filtering zooplankton from the water at a rate of 1,500 m³ or more per hour. Unlike the Megamouth Shark and Whale Shark, Basking Sharks do not appear to actively seek their quarry, but do possess large olfactory bulbs that may point the sharks in the right direction. They are slow-moving sharks (feeding at about two knots) and do not attempt to evade approaching boats (unlike Great Whites). As filter feeders, they are also harmless to humans if left alone and will not be attracted to chum.

Basking Sharks are social animals and form schools segregated by sex, usually in small numbers (3-4) but reportedly up to 100 individuals. Their social behaviour is thought to follow visual cues, as although the Basking Shark's eyes are small, they are fully developed; the sharks have been known to visually inspect boats, possibly mistaking them for conspecifics.[1] ( Females are thought to seek out shallow water to give birth.

These sharks have few predators, but Orcas, Tiger Sharks and the aforementioned lampreys are known to feed on them.


Basking Sharks are ovoviviparous: the developing embryos first rely on a yolk sac, and as there is no placental connection, they later rely on unfertilized ova produced by the mother (a behaviour known as oophagy). Gestation is thought to span over a year (but perhaps much longer), with a small and unknown number of young born fully developed at 1.5-2 metres (5-6.5 feet) in length. Mating is thought to occur in early summer and birthing in late summer, following the female's movement into shallow coastal waters.

The onset of maturity in Basking Sharks is not known with certainty but is thought to be between the 6-13th year of life and at a length of between 4.6-6 metres. Breeding frequency is also unknown, but is thought to be 2-4 years.

The seemingly useless teeth of Basking Sharks may play a role in courtship behaviour, possibly as a means for the male to keep hold of the female during mating.

See also

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External links

Shark articles
Angel | Basking | Blacktip Reef | Blue | Bull | Carpet | Cat | Cookiecutter | Freshwater | Frilled | Goblin | Gray Reef | Grey Nurse | Great White | Hammerhead | Mako | Megamouth | Nurse | Oceanic Whitetip | Porbeagle | Requiem | River | Sand | Sandbar | Saw | Silky | Sleeper | Smooth dogfish | Thresher | Tiger | Whale (shark) | Whitetip reef | Wobbegong | Zebra / Leopard
Extinct shark species
Megalodon | Cladoselache | Squalicorax


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