Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Basking Shark

Cetorhinus maximus


Fun Facts

    The basking shark is the second largest species of fish in the world.

    Basking sharks are filter feeders, passing 2,000 tons of water over the gills per hour.




Basking sharks live in the open ocean and occur near the surface down to depths of 500 meters (1,640 feet). They are found worldwide, however, only north and south of the equator in parts of the world with cooler water temperatures. The body is gray or brown above and variably lighter or darker below. The large body is stout and the snout is pointed. The mouth and gill slits are extremely large. The basking shark is one of the largest species of sharks in the world, second only to the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Basking sharks can grow up to 15 meters (49 feet) long, but most are less than 10 meters (33 feet) in length.

Basking sharks feed primarily on zooplankton, such as copepods, barnacle larvae, krill, and fish eggs. This shark is called the "basking" shark because it is mostly seen while feeding at the surface and appears to be basking in the warm surface waters. Females give birth to live young with litters ranging from one to six young. Very little is known about the reproduction and life history of the basking shark, as animals less than 3 meters (10 feet) are rarely seen. It is estimated that both sexes become mature at about six or seven years. Basking sharks are thought have a life span of 30 years or more.

The basking shark was historically fished in central California in the mid-1920s until the 1960s. Presently there is no fishery for these sharks in California. The basking shark is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

To learn more about basking sharks and their relatives, visit the Sharks & Rays Room at the Aquarium.