A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Basking SharkThese gentle giants of the seas can be spotted round the Lizard coastline in the summer. Look out for their dorsal and tail fins above the waves.
Photo: Terry Thirlaway




Scientific name: Cetorhinus maximus

Other common names: Bone Shark, Elephant Shark

Cornish name: Morvleydh omdesi

Conservation status: IUCN, Northeast Atlantic population is Red-listed; protected in the EU and UK – it is illegal to disturb, kill or injure them.

What to look for:

  • Appearance: Large shark, usually seen below the water surface with mouth wide open as it filters its plankton food. The dorsal fin and tail can often be seen above the water surface. Mottled grey to brown in colour.
  • Size: Up to 12 m in length.
  • Where: Coastal waters round the UK; globally in all temperate seas.
  • When: Late spring and summer.
  • Similar species: Some other sharks, but no others this size are found round the UK coastline.

Basking SharkLate spring and summer bring Basking Sharks to Cornwall’s waters. These giant filter-feeders are attracted here by the plankton blooms of the summer months: this greater productivity is encouraged by warmer waters from the Atlantic.

It’s hard to believe for such a large animal (this is the second-largest fish in the world – only the Whale Shark is larger), but we know very little about them. We can only estimate how long they live or dates of sexual maturity from comparison with related species. Although we know they move to deeper waters in the winter, very little is known of their behaviour in the colder months. We can obviously see its massive mouth, held wide open to take in seawater and filter out its plankton food through five extensive gill slits. Its colour varies from grey to brown to black, and it is covered in mucus.

Scientists from the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Marine Conservation Society, are currently conducting a satellite tracking project to try and find out more about where Basking Sharks go and their behaviour. Find out more here http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_445590_en.html.

Did you know…?

…The southwest of England is one of five Basking Shark ‘hotspots’ on the west coast of Britain and Ireland, where the waters are particularly warm, and therefore productive, in the summer.

…Basking Sharks will swim thousands of kilometres in pursuit of plankton blooms.

Basking Shark


ARKive: http://www.arkive.org/basking-shark/cetorhinus-maximus/

Shark Trust: http://www.sharktrust.org/en/basking_shark_the_project

University of Exeter/Marine Conservation Society Shark Tracking Project: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_445590_en.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basking_shark

Published: May 2015
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Homepage and bottom photo this page: Terry Thirlaway; upper photo this page: Green Fire Productions (Whale Shark) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Click here for information about other marine species you can spot from the Lizard.