Sharks are maybe the scariest things you can imagine living in the ocean. That’s also a misconception that many people are believing in, even though that’s not entirely true. Sharks are actually not that scary, unless you are swimming in the ocean with a wound.
Take for example whale sharks. They are currently the biggest fish, and shark in the family. But instead of using their size for hunting down human and other sea creatures, they eat planktons. In fact, they are not the only species of shark to eat plankton, and we are going to talk about one in this article.
It is basking shark, or scientifically recognized as Cetorhinus maximus. Basking shark is the second largest living shark nowadays. So, what’s actually worth mentioning about this species of shark? Follow through to find out.
One feature that we need to mention about basking shark is its huge mouth, when it is open. Yes, basking sharks look exactly just like other kinds of sharks we know in the movie. In many occasions, this shark has been mistaken for great white shark, actually.
Basking sharks indeed have typical lamniform body plan. But once you see it opening its mouth, you will see the difference. Its mouth can open up to 3 feet or 1 meter, a size that’s enough to gulp in an adult average-sized human.
But what’s strange about the mouth is that you will likely find no sharp teeth like great white sharks have. Yes, basking sharks are toothless because they eat planktons, as mentioned above. With that diet, they don’t even need teeth.
Even though the size of adult basking shark can reach up to 36 feet or about 11 meters long, but it doesn’t even eat a tuna. With that size, basking shark is also the second biggest fish in the ocean, as whale shark is still the biggest fish currently.
However, because of illegal fishing, finding basking shark with that size is pretty hard nowadays. Still, the size of common basking shark we can find range between 6-8 meter (20-26 feet), and weigh about 5 tons each.
Friendly And Stinky
Just like how shark is portrayed in movies, basking sharks can be found near the surface in temperate oceans. The reason why they like to swim near the surface is because that’s the place where the amount of plankton is abundant.
This shark is brave enough to approach boats, unlike the great white shark that tends to move away. Even they don’t even seem to care about swimmers approaching them, and in many places their presence becomes tourist attraction instead because of this friendly nature.
With this nature, there is a chance that you will meet a basking shark when scuba diving, but you don’t need to worry about their presence because they will not eat you. Not only because they eat plankton, but also because they are slow swimmers.
Their average speed is only about 5 kilometers per hour, or about 3 miles per hour. However, don’t ever think to underestimate them. Even though they can weigh up to 5 tons and swimming slowly, but in many occasions they are often seem to breach, jumping entirely out of water, to get rid of annoying parasites.
That’s not the only way they are repelling parasites from their body. Basking sharks are also known to be able to produce a self-produced mucus and slime as defense mechanism against parasites. The slime is corrosive, and smells stinky.
Unlike most species of sharks, basking sharks are relatively social fish. They are often found swimming together in a group divided by sex. The size of the group varies, and sometimes it even reaches up to 100 members.
Most sightings usually occur during summer in northern Europe, because that’s their favorite place to mate. Basking sharks usually give birth only once between two to four years, and their life expectancy is about 50 years.
During winter, they move from the colder areas to warmer areas where planktons are abundant. During the journey, they usually spend their time to shed and renew their gill rakers. This is unusual, because usually other sea creatures go through this process over one short period.
Because of their huge size, basking sharks have only a few predators. White sharks have been seen to scavenge on their remains, and killer whales are reportedly feeding on basking sharks off coast of California and New Zealand.
The other predator is human. People were known to hunt for basking sharks for their fins, and basking sharks come with huge fins compared to other sharks. In China and Japan, the fins of basking sharks can cost you a lot of money.
Basking sharks are also known to produce liver oil that can be used for lamp fuel. Back in 16th to 17th century, they were hunted for the oil instead of the fins. Well, because of that, and their fins can make a lot of money too for the hunters, basking sharks were hunted in a large scale.
Their slow-moving speed when they swim, their friendly nature, and previously abundant number were likely the reasons why they are easy target for the fishermen. But over the past 20 years, their population has been reportedly to decrease significantly.
In many occasions, they are also the victims of indirect fishing, when they are unintentionally got caught in trawl nets. In example, in 2015 fishermen in Portland, Australia, caught a 6 meters (about 21 feet) basking shark unintentionally. The body was then donated to Victoria Museum for research.
That’s why, IUCN Red List placed this creature as a vulnerable species. They are now fully protected species in the U.S. Gulf Coast, Florida, New Zealand, Malta and the United Kingdom. However, legal protection still cannot protect them from bigger threat: global warming and climate change.
Global warming and climate change has brought chaos to the order of the ocean. Not only by increasing the temperature of ocean water, but the whole ocean ecosystem has been disordered. Will we allow this majestic animal to disappear from this planet because of our faults?