Overview — Basking sharks may look fearsome, but they are relatively gentle giants that can grow up to 33 feet long. Their size is matched in heft, with many weighing up to 8,000 pounds or about as much as a four-passenger jet.
Basking sharks take it slow and easy, swimming at no more than three miles per hour by swaying their entire bodies from left to right. While they commonly are spotted near the water’s surface, some descend down to deeper waters during the winter months to escape the icy cold in less temperate portions of their wide range.
Feeding Habits — For such an enormous fish basking sharks consume very tiny prey. Most of their diet consists of plankton, fish eggs, larvae and copepods, which are small freshwater crustaceans. A filter feeder, basking sharks obtain their food passively. They swim with their mouths open, filtering around 2,000 tons of water per hour. Bristlelike structures known as gill rakers trap the plankton, allowing water to exit out the gills and mouth.
Cool Fact — Basking sharks are among the largest fish in the world, second only to whale sharks in size.
Common Max Depth — 4,000 feet