Basking Shark
Worldwide Distribution

Scientific Name
Cetorhinus maximus
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichtyes
Subclass: Elasmobranchii
Order: Lamniformes
Family: Cetorhinidae
Genus and Species: Cetorhinus Maximus
Species Authority: (Gunnerus, 1765)
Circumglobal; Temperate waters
Occurrence in Canadian Waters
Very Common
Population Trend
Interaction with Humans
Bycatch and entanglement in fishing gear
Conservation Status
COSEWIC: Atlantic - Special Concern (2009); Pacific - Endangered (2007)
SARA: Under Consideration
IUCN Global: Vulnerable (2000)
CITES: Appendix II (2002)
Fisheries Vulnerability: Very High


The basking shark, the largest fish to reguarly occur in Canadian waters, is the second largest shark in the world, second only to the whale shark. This shark can range in length between 8 and 10 metres and is usually greyish brown in colour, often with a mottled or spotted appearance. Often, the basking shark is misidentified as another unusual shark, the Greenland shark.

Similar to the whale shark, the basking shark is considered to be a whale in the shark world. This slow-moving giant is a filter-feeder. In order to feed, basking sharks strain zooplankton and small crustaceans out of the water as it passes over their large gills.


As a pelagic animal, the basking shark is found in both coastal and oceanic waters from 200 to 2000 metres in depth, but often strays inshore. In offshore areas, it is usually found near oceanic fronts at temperatures between 6 and 16 °C. Basking shark distribution appears to be restricted to this range in temperature.


Found in all the world's temperate oceans, basking sharks appear to be highly migratory. Their range covers the north and south Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the north and south Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, off southern Australia and around New Zealand.

In Canadian waters, the basking shark is often seen during the summer and fall months around the coastline. It ranges from White Bay and Notre Dame Bay in Newfoundland to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Scotian Shelf, along the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia coastlines, in the Bay of Fundy and also further south towards U.S. territorial waters.

A Species at Risk?

Interaction with fishing gear has been the primary threat to basking sharks in Atlantic Canada since 1987. Basking sharks are common bycatch in many trawl fisheries, particularly in the silver hake and redfish fisheries, but may also be occasionally caught in longline and gillnet fisheries. Total reported discards have averaged 164 individuals per years in domestic fisheries. Although they are receiving increasing conservation focus, basking sharks currently receive no management measures.

Did You Know?

Due to its slow speed and unaggressive nature, basking sharks were historically targeted. Once considered to be a nuisance to Canadian fishers in the Pacific, basking sharks were targeted by a government eradication program from 1945-1970. It is estimated that they will never return to their unexploited state. Basking sharks are extremely rare in these waters now.