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Basking shark


up to 15 meters


up to 6000 kilograms


gray-brown to black with light sides and dirty white belly


20 to 100 years


plankton (microscopically small organisms)




live birth (ovoviviparity)
maturity: from 12-16 years
number: 1-6 young per nest

  • Dut: Reuzehaai (apikal, apikau, grote haai, paardenhaai)
  • Lat: Cetorhinus maximus
  • Eng: Basking shark
  • Ger: Riesenhai
  • Dan: Brugde
Basking shark, Chris Gotschalk

Basking shark

Basking sharks are the second largest living fish. Only whale sharks are larger. Despite their size, they are not dangerous for humans. Basking sharks don't have any teeth. They catch their food with the help of a filter in their mouth. With this filter, they can sieve the water and remove all kinds of small food particles. The filter is replaced every year.

  • Sunbathing thanks to a giant-size liver

    Basking sharks like to sunbathe on the surface of the water. In order to do that, they need to be able to float. But just like all other sharks, they have no swim bladder. The solution for this problem is an extremely large liver. This liver can form one third of its body weight. It contains a fatty material which used to be popular for people. Nowadays, the sharks are caught for their fins, which is a delicacy for many people. This makes the basking shark a threatened species. In the European Union, it is forbidden to fish these sharks.

  • Beaching, catches and spottings in the Netherlands
    DateLocation and details
    June 1992 report by Camperduin beach, length estimated at 4 meters
    October 1994 caught by GO 31, weight: 450 kilo
    October 1995 caught by UK 382, weight: 310 kilo (around 3.5 meter slong)
    October 1995 caught by (Scottish) PD 63 on the Klaverbank,weight: 250 kilo (3.75 meters long)
    November 1996 caught by SL 14 near the Klaverbank, weight: 210 kilo (around 4 meters long)
    31 October 1997 report by the weekly magazine 'Visserijnieuws'; catch of a young shark of 325 kilo, landed by the VLI 27. Based upon the weight, it was probably a young porbeagle.
    4 December 1997 caught by TX 49, weight: 600 kilo (more than 5 meters lang)
    December 2004 washed ashore near Petten, 3.65 meters long and 250 kilo. Probably killed by a blow from a ship propellor.
    From various sources
  • Distribution and habitat
    Distribution of the basking shark, Ecomare

    Basking sharks are found in all the colder world seas. They are occasionally found in the North Sea,ábut are rarely seen along the Dutch coast. The major distribution area of the basking shark in the Atlantic Ocean is located south of Iceland. Many of these sharks are spotted in the summer around the Orkney Islands, during their migration via the northern North Sea on their way to the Norwegian coast. They swim the same route back in the autumn, whereby some of them migrate longer along the eastern North Sea coast and end up by Dutch shores.

  • Confusion with other sharks

    Believe it or not, the basking shark is the cause of the 'Jaws' legends about giant people-devouring sharks. For an inexperienced eye, he looks a lot like the white shark or the mako shark. Those are dangerous shark species which don't grow longer than 6 meters. The basking shark may be longer, but it is a softy and never attacks people. It is evenápopular as a playmate by experienced divers. They only possible danger in that playing is eventual unexpected powerful movements and the rough shark skin. The basking shark can be recognized by the rounded form of its triangular dorsal fin.

    Every once in awhile, there is a report of a herring shark, or a 'nose shark', being caught which turns out to be a basking shark. Basking sharks are caught more often than herring sharks. The difference is easy to see: herring sharks have a mouth full of teeth, basking sharks are toothless. In addition, the dorsal fin of the basking shark is closer to the tail thanáthat of the herring shark.