Friday, March 25, 2011

Meet the Basking Shark

What could be more frightening than a giant 35 foot shark? A whole lot of things, it turns out, if the shark in question is a basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus).

Photo Credit: NOAA
I was surprised to stumble across this report and video from Panama City, Florida, showing a kayaker's encounter with one these prodigious creatures. Surprised, and also envious. I grew up in Florida, right on the gulf, and never saw anything half that spectacular. Well, aside from the sea turtles I watched nesting one night. And the dolphins we used to watch from the grounds of the Ringling Museum. Oh, and the time a couple of roseate spoonbills flew over our house... Okay, so Florida was a good place to watch wildlife way back when. But the point is, I never got to see a basking shark!

There's a good reason for that: despite the fact that their habitat spans the globe, they are very rare visitors to the waters around Florida. That's because they're usually found in more temperate waters. Which makes sense for an animal that large. Imagine the heat one must generate, even at rest. And while you're at it, try to imagine an animal this huge. Thirty-five feet of living flesh. That's a whole lot of fish!

Photo Credit: Daily Mail
But, unlike some extinct giant sharks, basking sharks are not flesh eaters. They survive instead by filtering plankton from seawater. That's the purpose of that enormous mouth: the more water they can suck in the more plankton they can filter out. Just how wide can they open that mouth? Wide enough for a fair-sized human child to stand up in: nearly four feet!

These peculiar animals, like many denizens of the deep, have been shrouded in mystery until quite recently. But tracking studies have now revealed that they can travel up to 1,500 miles in one day and remain at depths of 3,300 feet for five months at a time. Oh, and they give birth to cute little live sharks, not eggs.

So, a 35 foot shark... That must be the largest fish out there, right? Nope, that honor goes to the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), measured at up to 41 feet long. Sadly, I've never seen one of those either.

7 comments:

  1. Nice to know we're not on it's menu, but I still wouldn't waste any time getting out of it's way if I saw one coming!

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  2. That photo really caught my attention and I love it! I may be able to get one in the store, and am looking forward to it!

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  3. Tatty, I feel the same way!

    Tapirgal, that would be SO cool! Can't wait to see it!

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  4. That's one big mouth bass ya got there. ;)

    I too would love to see one. That's something I miss being up here in the city. You don't see too much random wildlife unless a coyote wanders in and takes a run down the streets.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this information on this shark basking in FLA waters. It's fascinating and good to know that he like whales love plankton.

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  6. i LOVE big vegetarian sharks!

    p.s., you've seen my plushie whale shark, right? it was too cute not to make one.

    now i want to make a plush basking shark.

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