Magnificent fish glide around UK coastal waters during the summer months, just beneath the surface. Their cavernous mouths wide open – not screaming, but feeding. These behemoths are basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus), the second largest fish in the world (only surpassed by the whale shark).
At up to 12 metres they’re as long as a London bus – but much more environmentally friendly.
For all their size, these gentle giants feed mostly on microscopic zooplankton. Their mouths filtering it from the seas through mucus-laden gill rakers.
Basking sharks live for around 50 years, but females don’t reach maturity until they’re 20, and only reproduce every two to four years. This leaves the species particularly at risk from fishing, tourism, pollution and climate change, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified these sharks as endangered.
You might spot the nose and dorsal fin of these surface feeders as they harvest blooms of zooplankton, especially around the Hebridean islands of Scotland, the Isle of Man and the west coasts of Wales and Cornwall. But if you're lucky enough to encounter a basking shark...
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