The Cetorhinus maximus, otherwise known as the basking shark, is an extremely large and mysterious fish. These sharks can grow to lengths of over 35 feet (10 meters), thus making them the second largest fish in the ocean; The first being the whale shark.
An Elusive Giant
Due to their immense size, you’d think that would would aid in our knowledge about them. Interestingly enough, however, there are many things about these sharks that we have absolutely no clue about. While we have made substantial advancements in our research, there are a few essentials that we are still a complete mystery.
One of the things that we are sure of is their diet. Many people would assume that these gigantic sharks eat animals such as seals, other fish, or you know, whatever is in the vicinity. Well the truth of the matter is, thy have one main favorite food source: Zooplankton. Now for those of you who may not be familiar with zooplankton, they are tiny animals that can be found near the water’s surface. Although they are aquatic creatures, zooplankton are not the greatest swimmers, and they typically just coast along with the water’s currents. Based on the enormous size of this shark, it is very peculiar that they feast on tiny plankton, but that is the nature of the beast. If you look closely at the video above, you can actually see the shark catching zooplankton in its mouth.
If you happen to come in contact with a massive shark, and its size isn’t a big enough to give away whether it’s a basking shark or not, here are a few physical characteristics that these sharks are known for. The mouth of a basking shark is very recognizable. Their mouths are tremendously large; they can be well over 3 ft (1 m) in width! With a shark this size, one would probably expect them to have long, pointy teeth similar to those of a great white or tiger shark. On the contrary, they have several rows of many diminutive teeth. The large size of their mouths, and the small size of their teeth directly coincide with the shark’s unexpected diet. In order to eat, basking sharks keep their mouths open while they swim, and sift the plankton out of the water.
Basking sharks thrive in water that ranges from warm to cool in temperature. In addition, they prefer to swim close to the shore and also enjoy swimming near the water’s surface. In fact, they like being near the surface so much, that “sun fish” is their nickname. These sharks often travel through the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Sea of Japan, near New Zealand, and Southern Australia. They can also be easily spotted near the coastline of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. At time, they can be found in groups of about 100, but they are also known for traveling alone.
If you happen to be visiting any of these places and you see an enormous fish with its 3 ft (1 m) wide mouth hanging open, it may just very well be a basking shark. Don’t worry; they prefer the taste and nutritional benefits of plankton, so lucky you (not so lucky for the plankton though)!
Now you may be wondering how a handless and fingerless fish can separate plankton from the water it engulfs. This process is an interesting one that involves another important physical characteristic; gill rakers are necessary for the shark’s feeding process. Gill rakers are very long, and they are solely responsible for filtering the plankton out of the water. The excess water is then ejected out of the body through the shark’s gill slits. Gill rakers put in so much work, that they are replaced annually; they are discarded during the winter months, and new ones sprout in the spring.
Page Created By: Mike Rogers