The biology and ecology of the basking shark: A review

Mauvis Gore, Ewan Camplisson, Rupert Ormond

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Here we review the literature on the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus, Gunnerus, 1765), well known as the second largest extant shark (and fish) species globally. Previous reviews were published by Kunzlik in 1988 and Sims in 2008, but in the last 15 years modern electronic and DNA sequencing technologies have resulted in considerable advances in our knowledge of the species’ behaviour and ecology. Basking sharks are planktivores and under appropriate conditions spend prolonged periods at the ocean surface feeding on copepod prey that primarily make up their diet, the behaviour that gave rise to their common name. In general, they are migratory and move into higher latitude waters during the summer months, when loose surface-feeding aggregations may form at favoured sites, the best known of which at present occur at hotspots on the west coasts of Britain and Ireland. The species is found circumglobally in temperate waters, but they are also now known on occasion to migrate at depth between northern and southern hemispheres, as well as across oceans within the northern hemisphere. In the past basking shark were more abundant across much of their range, but, consequent on targeted fisheries and in some places intentional eradication, became everywhere scarce, with recent population recovery in the north-east Atlantic being the result of protective measures initiated in the 1990s. Despite their charismatic nature, some of their most fundamental biological processes including copulation, gestation and birth remain largely unknown, due to their migratory and often deep-water lifestyle. In contrast, the deployment of small-scale archival and satellite tags has revealed the details of both broadscale migratory movements and horizontal and vertical foraging behaviours. Recent genetic studies support evidence suggesting a degree of site fidelity in relation to seasonal feeding grounds, which likely explains why in the past local populations have collapsed following periods of intensive fishing. Other recent research using aerial drones and towed cameras has revealed within loose feeding aggregations elements of social behaviour that may have a courtship function as well as enhance feeding efficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Marine Biology
EditorsCharles Sheppard
Number of pages145
ISBN (Print)9780323992589
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Publication series

NameAdvances in Marine Biology
ISSN (Print)0065-2881
ISSN (Electronic)2162-5875


  • Animals
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Sharks
  • Animal Migration
  • Ecology
  • Diet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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