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Basking sharks in our seas

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is Britain's largest fish.  They can grow up to 11 metres long and weigh up to 7 tonnes - about the size and weight of a double-decker bus! Once numerous in our waters, basking sharks were hunted for their liver oil and their populations declined to such an extent that now they are considered to be endangered in UK waters.

Now they are protected and the fishery has stopped, but as the population recovers they still face threats of accidental entanglement, disturbance at their surface feeding sites and illegal fishing for their valuable fins.

What needs to be done?

We still have much to learn about these gentle giants, which spend most of their lives hidden beneath the waves. While we are beginning to identify basking shark hotspots where they come to the surface in summer to feed, we do not fully understand the importance of these hotspots and what exactly the sharks are doing there.

Neither do we know how many sharks are accidentally entangled in fishing gear or hit by boats and how significant these threats may be. We do not know the significance of disturbance at basking shark hotspots, and we do not know where the all-important basking shark breeding grounds are. By finding out more about these spectacular animals, we will have a better idea of how to protect them.

MCS Action

Over the last 25 years, MCS has successfully campaigned for better national and international legal protection for basking sharks. Our Basking Shark Watch programme has also generated the largest basking shark sightings database in the world and has been instrumental in identifying surface feeding hotspots.

Now basking sharks are fully protected, MCS will be looking to answer some of the mysteries surrounding these elegant and elusive leviathans through Basking Shark Watch, and collaborative research with our partner organisations. Help us find out how best to protect out largest fish.

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