Are Basking Sharks Dangerous Or Aggressive?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: September 20, 2022
Image Credit Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com
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Dinosaurs do not exist anymore, but the world has not run out of giant creatures. The basking shark is one of the world’s largest animals and the second biggest fish after the whale shark. These ginormous fish grow up to 26 feet long but have been recorded to reach an astonishing 40 feet in length.

These 10,000-pound sharks swim through the ocean with their large mouths hanging open, and this sight can be quite threatening. Are basking sharks dangerous or aggressive? Let’s find out!    

Are Basking Sharks Aggressive?

Basking Shark with mouth open
Despite their frightening appearance, basking sharks are not aggressive.

Chris Gotschalk / Public Domain

Basking sharks are not aggressive despite their threatening looks and shared resemblance with the great white shark. These giant fish have about 1,500 conical teeth in their large mouths but never use them to injure or crush animals. They have no problem with divers and boats approaching them and would rather be left alone.

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Are Basking Sharks Dangerous?

Biggest Shark: Basking Shark
Basking sharks are neither dangerous nor aggressive sharks.

Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com

While the sight of a giant open mouth big enough to swallow a human and dozens of rows of sharp teeth spells danger, basking sharks are neither dangerous nor aggressive sharks. They move slowly underwater and do not chase prey or humans. This passiveness sets them apart from most shark species that often dash and attack.

However, despite the peaceful nature of the basking shark, its sheer power and size should not be ignored. These giants are capable of turning boats over when harpooned. Also, it is best not to brush against their skins as they are rough and hard and can cause injuries.                                  

Has A Basking Shark Ever Attacked A Human?

Basking sharks do not attack any living creature. They move slowly at the ocean’s depth or closer to the surface when they encounter humans. There has been no recorded basking shark bite in history. However, a certain encounter with a basking shark led to human deaths.

According to reports, three Scotsmen drowned after their boat was capsized by a basking shark in Kilbrannan Sound, Scotland, in 1937. Further reports suggest that the culprit shark breached the water surface and capsized the boat. It is believed the attack wasn’t intended and that it was an accident. Even though basking sharks are naturally harmless to humans, it is important to take caution around them.  

Are Basking Sharks Friendly?

Basking shark
Basking sharks are tolerant of humans.

rossbeane / Creative Commons

Basking sharks are more tolerant of humans than they are friendly. They are so huge that they hardly pay much heed to divers swimming in the water. However, sometimes, they can be seen circling divers, but they do not attack, making them one of the harmless animals worldwide. It is for this reason that basking sharks make important attractions for dive tourism.

What is the Largest Basking Shark On Record?

The largest basking shark ever recorded was caught in Canada in 1851. This record-breaking shark weighed about 36,000 pounds and measured about 39 feet. Here are 5 basking shark facts that you might not know.

How Fast Are Basking Sharks?

It is easy to assume that the giant basking shark would move slowly underwater, which is quite true. The common name, basking sharks, is a derivative of their relaxed pace within the ocean. These sharks are slowest when they have their mouths open, with greater water drag, which causes them to expend more energy swimming.

However, basking sharks can leap out of the water when their mouths are closed, reaching about 4 feet (1.22 meters) in the air at 11.1mph (18kmp). This speed pales compared to the shortfin mako shark, the fastest shark worldwide that moves four times faster than the basking shark.   

What Do Basking Sharks Eat?

Basking sharks are filter feeders. Despite their ginormous size, this shark species feed on plankton and other marine beings which include little jellyfish, crustaceans, and algae which cannot swim against the current. Only two other sharks share the basking shark’s plankton diet choice, and they are the whale shark and the megamouth shark. However, the basking shark differs from the other two large sharks by being the most passive feeder of the trio. These slow-moving sharks leave their mouths open and filter the water that goes through for plankton and other small prey with their gill rakers.

Basking Shark Location: Where Can Basking Sharks Be Found?

Basking sharks are migratory animals. They can travel thousands of miles during migrations and do not stay in a region for more than a few months. These heavy sharks do not hibernate either and are active all year. Basking sharks live in temperate waters, ranging from coastal to brackish, and live at different depths depending on the season. According to reports, they can reach depths of 3,000 feet.

There have been sightings of these large sharks on the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans coastlines in the United States. In the western Atlantic, it ranges from Newfoundland to Florida and also on the west coast of North America. They can also be found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Basking sharks used to be hunted for their hides, fins, and livers in the 1950s. Oil was obtained from their livers, which burned in lamps until petroleum products replaced them. A single shark could provide up to 1,500 liters of oil. The population of the large giants has not recovered since the period.

While basking sharks are still hunted in places in Asia, it is illegal in countries in Europe and others like the United States. So, it is possible to have basking shark fin soup in China or Japan. According to the Florida Museum, this giant shark species is categorized as vulnerable within its range and endangered in the North Pacific and Northeastern Atlantic Ocean regions.

Up Next:

Basking Shark Location: Where Do Basking Sharks Live?

9 Mind-Blowing Basking Shark Facts

The 7 Most Aggressive Sharks in the World

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Sources
  1. Florida Museum, Available here: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/cetorhinus-maximus/
  2. OCEANA, Available here: https://www.oceana.org/marine-life/shortfin-mako-shark/
  3. Basking Shark Scotland, Available here: https://baskingsharkscotland.co.uk/basking-sharks