Creature Feature: Basking Shark

Image by ccOMmzk

Image by: ccOMmzk

Gargantuan. Massive. Preposterously Huge. These are words that describe MSI’s love of marine creatures! Incidentally, they have also been used to describe this week’s featured creature – the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus). Only second in size to the Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus), Basking Sharks can reach 40 feet in length.  That is slightly bigger than the average school bus! The snout of this fish is large which to make sense when you consider the scientific name. Are you ready for some ancient language roots?! The first part of Cetorhinus comes from the Greek word “ketos” which means marine monster.  The second part, “rhinus” is Greek for nose. You may already have figured out that maximus means “great”. I suppose that when you string it together, this creature could also be called the Great-Nosed Sea Monster…

On second, let’s just stick with Basking Shark.  The common name comes from this shark’s typical  behavior of hanging out at the surface of the water, apparently “basking” in the sun.

Although sunbathing is relaxing, there’s another reason Basking Sharks lurk close to the surface. This shark feeds as it moves through the water, mouth a-gaping. Basking sharks need only use the flow of the water created by their own momentum to trap plankton in their gill rakers. Talk about easy meals! Scientists believe that they feed at the surface during plankton population spikes which normally occur during warmer months.  In the colder winter months, when the plankton populations decline, they will dive to greater depths and feed on benthic (or bottom-dwelling) organisms. To do this, they must drop their gill rakers so that they do not trap unnecessary particles and sediment. It is unknown how long it takes for the rakers to grow back.

The liver of the Basking Shark makes up about 25% of it body weight, and is one of the primary reasons this shark is hunted. Most countries have regulations about hunting this shark species but China and Japan still uses the various parts of the sharks, for soup, as an aphrodisiac, and lubricant for cosmetics. This species is recognized as “Vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species.

Join us next week to learn about another amazing shark species.

Edited By: KC O’Shea
Photography by:
Tricas, Timothy C., Kevin Deacon, Peter Last, John E. McCosker, Terence I. Walker, Leighton Taylr. A Guide to Sharks & Rays. San Francisco: Fog City Press, 2002. Print.


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