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Shark Gifts

Well-known species such as the great white shark, tiger shark, and the hammerhead are apex predators, at the top of the underwater food chain. Their extraordinary skills as predators fascinate and frighten humans, even as their survival is under serious threat from fishing and other human activities.

Basking Sharks

The basking shark is a species of shark found in between the coast and pelagic zone, or area close neither to the shore nor the floor of the ocean, of waters ranging from boreal to warm-temperate. They are most likely to be found around continental shelves, and it is not uncommon to see a basking shark near land, such as in bays. Basking sharks migrate seasonally, plunging to waters about 3,000 feet deep in the winter.

The length of the basking shark's gestation period is not known with certainty, it is believed to last for over a year, and perhaps for even two or three years. Mating is believed to occur every two to four years in the early summer, and females give birth to a small number of live pups in the late summer. The basking shark reaches sexual maturity between the ages of six and 13 years, and is believed to live for about 50 years.

The basking shark is the second-largest extant species of fish, outstripped in size only by the whale shark. On average, the basking shark measures about 20 to 26 feet in length and weighs about 5.2 tons. The largest accurately measured basking shark, however, measured 46.4 to 58.1 feet in length and an enormous 19 tons in weight. Some basking sharks may still measure over 30 feet in length, though large-scale fishing has made them rare.

Despite what its size may lead one to think, basking sharks are not dangerous predators. In fact, they are passive filter-feeders, subsisting on plankton and small fish and invertebrates. The basking shark is notable for its enormous jaw, typically measuring about three feet in width, which allows it to open its mouth very wide and filter up to 1,800 tons of water per hour. It typically feeds at or close to the surface of the water.

Likely on account of its size, the basking shark has few natural predators. Orcas, or killer whales, have been observed feeding on basking sharks, though no other animals seem to pose a threat to the basking shark. Great white sharks may, however, scavenge on the remains of deceased basking sharks. Lamprey eels may attach themselves to basking sharks, but they are unlikely to be able to harm the sharks due to the basking shark's thick skin.

Though the basking shark faces few natural threats, humans pose a danger to it. Fisheries have long favored the basking shark because of its slow motion, docile nature, and previous abundance, a fact that likely contributed to the major decline that the basking shark's population has suffered in numbers. In the past, the basking shark's presence along the Canadian Pacific coast was considered a nuisance, and the basking shark was subject to eradication efforts by the government in that area.

The basking shark has been issued a conservation status of vulnerable, an issue to which many countries have responded positively. A major way in which this has occurred is through the protection of basking sharks in territorial waters and the restriction of basking shark product trade by various countries. An effort to locate any basking sharks that may still live along the Canadian Pacific coast and follow their recovery is also being made.

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Shark Gifts




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