June 23 – Basking Bobbins

Today’s factismal: Only three basking sharks have ever been caught off of Australia.

If you went swimming off the Australian shore and saw a large fin headed your way, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a great white looking to see if you were a tasty seal; Australia is the second-most attacked place is the world (America’s West Coast is number one). But sometimes that great big fin belongs to a far more docile (and bigger) creature – the basking shark.

A basking shark out for food (Image courtesy the New England Basking Shark Project)

A basking shark out for food
(Image courtesy the New England Basking Shark Project)

Basking sharks are amazing creatures. At 26 ft long and nearly 8,000 lbs heavy, these slow-moving fish are the second largest living fish in the sea; their cousins, the whale shark are the largest. But what is even more amazing than their size is what they eat. Like whale sharks, basking sharks feed on plankton and small fish. They spend most of the summer up near the surface, gulping down the plankton that thrive there. Then, when winter comes along, they dive down to 3,000 ft and eat the deep-dwelling plankton and fish that live there. They are social animals and can often be found in small groups that sometimes form a circle and swim around and around, either as mating or feeding behavior. They are active swimmers that cover long distances despite their slow speed.

And that’s about all that we know about basking sharks for sure. How they reproduce, how many there are, even what subspecies exist are a great mystery. That’s because the basking shark is typically hunted only for food and only rarely for science. Basking shark fins are popular for shark fin soup, and their cartilage (which they use in place of our bony skeleton) is often found in traditional medicines. But fishing for basking sharks has gotten more effective over the years; it is so effective today that they no longer are found in many of the traditional areas, such as the coast of Newfoundland.

The basking shark from Australia (Image courtesy Museum Victoria)

The basking shark from Australia
(Image courtesy Museum Victoria)

The sharks are less common in Australia, where only three basking sharks have been caught in the past 200 years. Though that’s definitely unusually low, signs are that they may soon become scarce all around the world and not just Down Under. If you’d like to help, even if it is just by learning more about this amazing animal, then swim over to the New England Basking Shark Project at:
http://www.nebshark.org/

One thought on “June 23 – Basking Bobbins

  1. Pingback: July 8 – Bite me! | Little facts about science

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