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Basking Sharks

Identify It >   Marine Wildlife Section >   Basking Sharks >

Scientific name:  Cetorhinus maximus

Size:  Basking sharks can be up to 10m long and weigh up to 7,000kg

Distribution:  Mainly seen around the coast of Devon, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Ireland and the west coast of Scotland

Months seen:  April to July

Life span:  Up to 50 years

Habitat:  The basking shark is usually seen in warm coastal, and cool temperate waters.  During the winter they move to deeper water

Food:  Plankton

Special features:  Basking sharks are commonly seen very near the surface of the water along the coast.  Their appearance during fine weather conditions has earned them the nickname of "sun fish".

As they cruise through the sea with their giant mouths wide open they filter the seawater for food.  As the water goes in, any food, such as plankton, is collected on filaments in the gills, before the water passes out again through the gill slits on each side of the head. The gills also extract oxygen from the water allowing the basking shark to breathe.

Basking sharks are the largest fish found in UK waters, and the second largest fish in the world. The only fish larger is the Whale shark, another filter feeder.

In the past, basking sharks were hunted for the oil in their liver. More recently they have been hunted in European waters for their fins which are highly prized in East Asia.

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