How Big Are Basking Sharks?

The ocean is home to some incredible animals and species of different shapes and sizes.

Trying to grasp just how large some of these underwater creatures can be and in this piece, we focus on the second largest fish in the ocean, the basking shark.

How Big Are Basking Sharks?

We look at the massive size of these animals, as well as their diet, habitat, and other interesting facts about this giant fish.

How Big Are Basking Sharks?

Basking sharks are slow-swimming sharks that typically float or move slowly along the surface of the water.

They are usually a gray-brown color and have tiny hooked teeth, very long gill slits, and a large conical snout.

The basking shark is the second-largest fish in the ocean, beaten to first place by the whale shark.

Basking sharks can reach huge lengths, with some growing up to 36 feet long. Basking sharks are not only long, but they are also very large, weighing up to 4.3 tons.

Due to their huge size, their carcasses can often be mistaken to be mythical creatures when they wash up on shore. 

When young are born they typically measure between 5 feet to 6.5 feet long, which is the average size of an adult gray reef shark.

In Canada, in 1851 the largest basking shark was spotted and it measured a whopping 40.3 feet. 

It can be difficult to judge how old a basking shark is due to their size as they reach varying lengths, depending on their environment and whether there is enough food there to enable them to thrive. 

To calculate a basking shark’s age scientists use the rings on the vertebrae to get an estimated age.

This method is disputed as some scientists argue that the rings on vertebrae are a result of growth spurts rather than age.

It is estimated that most thriving basking sharks can live up to 30 to 50 years of age and more. 

This large fish is extremely slow-moving, swimming through the water at no more than 2 knots which would be slower than the average person’s walking speed.

If they are in danger they do have the ability to move at a quicker speed

They have even been spotted breaching clear of the water although this activity would not be common.

This activity is presumed to be the shark’s attempt to dislodge parasites or as a warning to other basking sharks in the area. 

Basking Sharks Diet 

So what do these huge fish eat to reach their impressive size?

You may be surprised to learn that basking sharks are filter feeders which means that they have a diet of plankton and that they do not hunt smaller prey animals, unlike other types of sharks, such as Great White sharks.

The basking shark has long gill slits at the side of its head and these gills are used to sift through almost 2,000 gallons of water every hour, eating copepods and other types of plankton from the water for them to then consume. This process is known as ram feeding. 

The basking shark must constantly be moving to bring water into its mouth.

The population of basking sharks swells during the summer in each hemisphere as this species migrates in search of plankton sources across the whole of the ocean basins.

Basking Sharks Habitat 

Basking sharks are typically found around coastal areas in temperate regions of both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

A basking shark would rarely be seen in more tropical waters and there are never any spotted in the Indian Ocean. This species prefers temperatures of 8 to 15 degrees.

Basking sharks are migratory species and they swim the seas in search of plankton blooms, meaning they could be spotted along the coast of many different countries that neighbor the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Are Basking Sharks Dangerous 

Due to their size, many people fear that basking sharks could be very dangerous, however, they have no interest in people and so they are usually safe to be around.

If you irritate a basking shark by swimming too close or possibly scaring the young then there are reports of divers and swimmers getting smacked with the shark’s muscly tail and so it is best to keep distance.

Basking sharks are no different from other wild animals and although they are tame and move slowly the majority of the time all wild animals can be unpredictable and so it is important to pay attention to any possible warning signs from a basking shark to move away. 

Fun Facts! 

  • Female basking sharks do not reach sexual maturity until they are 18 years of age
  • Basking shark pups can take up to 3 years to gestate
  • Basking sharks are the most protected species of shark in Europe as their large fins can warrant huge fees when sold in markets, particularly in Asia
  • Basking sharks are listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species
  • A basking shark’s liver makes up to 25% of their body weight
  • You will rarely see a basking shark swimming alone as they typically swim in pairs or in large groups of up to 100 other individuals
  • Basking sharks can open their mouth up to 3 feet wide

Final Thoughts 

We hope that you have found this piece interesting and that any questions you may have had about basking sharks have been answered.

Large creatures in the ocean are often misunderstood and so it is important to educate ourselves about such animals to ensure that we can be safe and respectful should you ever encounter a basking shark or any other species in the wild. 

There are tours in many countries where these large creatures are commonly spotted along the coastlines should you ever wish to see these giants in the wild.

Their large fin makes them easy to spot as they are almost always swimming just under the surface.

There are also diving experiences that can also be booked through local diving schools.

Mikayla Adams

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