Humans are fascinated by sharks, though they are largely misunderstood. The gentle giants to be found off the coast of Cornwall are basking sharks, and a Padstow Sealife Safari could put you up close to these marvellous creatures.
The beautiful basking shark is the second largest living fish in our oceans (coming a close second to the whale shark) and only one of three plankton-eating sharks. Despite its enormous size and famed for having a cavernous mouth, the basking shark is actually a slow-moving filter-feeder and something of a gentle giant. Basking sharks are named so because they appear to ‘bask’ at the water’s surface while they use their enormous mouths to filter plankton from the water. In fact, a basking shark can filter 2.5 million litres of water – the same volume of water that would be used to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool IN JUST ONE HOUR. We love these graceful creatures and are blessed to have them visit Cornish waters each year. For more fun basking shark facts, read on…
Basking Shark Facts to Blow your Mind…
What do Basking Sharks look like?
A basking shark can sometimes be confused with a great white shark, which causes fear and confusion for onlookers and swimmers! However, basking sharks are not as fat as great white sharks around the middle, and their teeth are a lot smaller (and mouths a lot bigger!). It’s common for the dorsal fin of a basking shark to flop on one side in adult basking sharks, and their snouts are pointed. The colour of a basking shark varies between dark brown, black and blue, depending on the individual, and their skin is very rough to touch.
Can a Basking Shark eat a human?
Fear not, basking sharks are gentle creatures who feed on plankton. If a shark sees a swimmer or a diver, it’s likely that it will swim away. They couldn’t even begin to swallow something as large as a person – a basking shark’s throat isn’t wide enough. Also, basking sharks have tiny brittle hooked teeth which break easily, and gill rakers for filter feeding (not great big strong predatory teeth like the great white), so worry not – basking sharks cannot (and do not) eat humans!
How big do Basking Sharks grow?
Basking sharks grow to lengths of over 35 feet (10 metres) and weights of around 2000kg (that’s over 300 stone!). These beauties are HUGE! They are the gentle giants of the ocean, second in size only to the whale shark. A basking shark’s mouth alone can be up to 3 feet wide… that’s a great basking shark fact for you!
Do Basking Sharks close their mouths?
The basking shark is the only species of shark which relies on passively moving water through its mouth to eat. The other two species of sharks which are filter feeders (whale sharks and megamouths) suck in their prey much like a vacuum cleaner. As the basking shark swims forward with its mouth open, water rushes into the opening and out through its gills. When feeding at the surface the basking shark typically swims with its mouth open for 30 to 60 seconds before closing its mouth and swallowing so yes, they do close their mouths.
Where do Basking Sharks live?
The Basking Shark is a seasonal visitor to British waters, migrating here between May and September each year.
But where are basking sharks found?
These gentle ocean giants can be found in all temperate oceans of the world but seem to prefer sea temperatures of between 8°- 14.5°C. During winter months, basking sharks migrate to deep, offshore waters in pursuit of zooplankton which is their favourite food. Many of them migrate south for winter, even crossing the equator in search of warm waters and bountiful feeding grounds. During the early spring and summer months, warmer water moves from the Atlantic into the coastal waters of the western UK and Ireland, encouraging greater marine productivity, particularly in places such as here in Cornwall. They prefer headlands, islands and bays with strong tidal flow where different masses of water meet and there is lots of plankton for them to feed on, making Cornwall amongst the best places in the UK to see basking sharks. Spotting Basking sharks in Cornwall is a unique and special experience, and you feel humbled and privileged to be witness to these beautiful giants!
Why is the Basking Shark endangered?
Basking Sharks live a long life, are slow growing and produce few offspring – biological traits which make them highly vulnerable to human impact. This, coupled with the fact that shark meat and fins (for shark fin soup) continues to be hotly sought-after all around the world, means that many species of shark are experiencing serious depletion. The eastern Pacific basking shark is a species of concern, because it has been overfished and its population has not responded to conservation measures intended to help increase shark numbers. Basking Sharks are also being affected by climate change, as rising sea temperatures are affecting the distribution of the plankton they feed on; pushing them further north.
Basking shark species are also listed as endangered and vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. We follow the Shark Trust’s code of conduct for boat handlers to ensure that we don’t harm these beautiful creatures and are respectful as we cruise around their waters.
Basking Sharks, at a Glance:
- What they Eat:Plankton
- Average Size: Up to 10 metres
- Average Weight: 2000kg
We can’t wait to help you discover the beautiful wildlife in our waters around Padstow, and fingers crossed you’re lucky enough to spot one of these gentle giants! This run down of basking shark facts just reminds us how lucky we are to be able to spot such awe-inspiring creatures from our Padstow Sealife Safari boats. Book your boat trip today!