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Basking Shark Facts

How is a basking shark classified?

Basking Shark (c) Colin Speedie
In just one hour a basking shark can filter a swimming pool of water

Living things can be organised into different groups.  Species that are alike are grouped together.  This is called classification.

Class:          Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish)
Order:          Lamniformes
Family:        Cetorhinidae

Species:       Cetorhinus maximus


Basking sharks are special

The basking shark is the second largest fish in the world after the whale shark and is slow-moving and harmless. Weighing up to 7 tonnes and measuring up to 12m, basking sharks are literally as big as a bus! 


The basking shark is widely distributed in temperate coastal waters worldwide. The shark is highly migratory and appears seasonally in different areas of its range.


Basking sharks follow concentrations of plankton and are often seen feeding near to the surface and close to land.


Basking sharks are filter feeders, swimming open-mouthed to allow water to flow over the gills and filtering zoo plankton with ‘gill rakers’.  In just one hour, a shark can filter a swimming pool of water and eat 25kg of plankton.


To aid buoyancy sharks lack true bones but have a cartilaginous skeleton which is lighter and large livers full of low density oil. 


During warmer months basking sharks are often sighted close to land and in enclosed bays.  But they are highly migratory and in the colder months of autumn and winter when plankton is scarce at the surface they remain at the bottom in deep water, possibly even hibernating.


Basking sharks can travel on their own, but they are social animals and form groups called ‘schools’ segregated by sex, usually in small numbers (3–4) but up to 50 or even 100 individuals.


Basking sharks are one of the slowest sharks to reproduce, with a lifespan of up to 50 years, males maturing by 12-16 years and females by 18 years.  After mating, gestation is slow, up to three years, and the female gives birth to 4-5 fully formed ‘pups’.


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