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A basking shark cruising
the shallow waters off a
Cape Cod beach.
Basking sharks, Cetorhinus maximus,are plentifull in New England during the summer and fall months.
The maximum length for baskers is 30-35 feet. The only shark larger than the basker, is the whale shark,
Rhincodon typus. Baskers are the second largest fish in the ocean.
Since they are plankton feeeders they can also be found in shallow water.
Andrew Mulawka photo
Basking shark Cetorhinus maximus
Below is a whale shark. The only fish larger
than a basking shark.
John Chisholm photo-Scusset beach
A common sight in New England during the summer, a basker just cruising along.
Basking sharks are plankton eaters. Basking sharks tagged here in New England have gone to the
Carribean and Brazil for the winter months. -------Paul Wojciak Photo
Whale shark, Rhincodon typus
Because basking sharks size, body shape and
fins; are similar to that of a white shark, baskers
are often mistaken for a white, Carcharodon
carcharias. Both baskers and whites are in our
area at the same time.
The chart on the right shows a comparison of
both species, and the middle diagram is the two
body shapes superimposed.
Notice the distance back from the pectoral fins
to the start of the first dorsal.
The white's dorsal is close to the pectorals and
the baskers is set farther back.
Baskers don't show a lot of white on the
bottomside, as do white sharks.
Baskers are more mottled and camoflaged,
whereas a white is basically a two tone shark and
can be more easily distinguished.
A baskers dorsal fin is more rounded on top than
a white's dorsal.
The gills on a basker come up much farther to
the top of the head.
Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus
Notice the gap between the pectoral fins and the dorsal fin on the basker.
A white shark's dorsal is much closer to the pectoral fins.
A group of New England
Recent basking shark tagging studies show that when the
baskers leave New England, they do not go east and cross
the Atlantic. They head south and some go as far south as
the coast of Brazil - and stay down in deep water there. They
are not on the surface during the winter months, like we see
them here all summer long. Where the baskers went in the
winter, was not known before these recent tagging studies.
Somtimes baskers will feed lying slightly on their sides, and their dorsal fin will not be erect.
People mistake them at a distance as a mola mola, (sunfish) since the sunfish dorsal is usually not erect.
Ocassionally you will encounter a basker that has more of a pointed dorsal than the usual rounded top.