The Basking Shark is what islanders might describe as a ferry-louper, a regular summertime visitor to the shores of Arran. The basking shark is the second biggest fish on the planet and the largest in UK waters. Its massive open jaw, spanning over 3ft wide, filters 2,000 litres of water per hour and sifts out zooplankton and small fish from coastal seas.
The numbers of basking sharks in Scottish waters are not known, but they are showing signs of recovery since the . By about the mid-18th century, Scottish fishermen had developed harpooning techniques
capable of landing basking sharks and this continued on a relatively small-scale until the 1820s. Gavin Maxwell's slightly ill-fated attempts to resurrect the fishery and set up a basking shark fishing station on Soay in the 1940s prompted a number of other fishermen to hunt basking shark commercially with variable success. The species has been fished as recently as 1994 by the Howard McCrindle. For an excellent and engaging account - with local detail - of basking sharks see The Basking Shark in Scotland: Natural History, Fishery and Conservation (which includes an incredible illustration by Moses Griffith of a basking shark being hunted off Lochranza in 1772). Now basking sharks are protected by law in the UK and any commercial value now flows more from their touristic interest than as a fishery stock.
For more information about this incredible fish see:
The Marine Conservation Society's Basking Shark Watch - A Twenty Year Report
MarLIN's Basking shark species review
Latin name: Cetorhinus maximus
Size: on average adult basking sharks grow to 6m-8m, but have been known to grow as big as 12m long
Habitat: Found from the surface down to over 900m deep. It is not fully understood where basking sharks spend the winter months, but it is believed that they overwinter in deeper waters. The joint project between Scottish Natural Heritage and Exeter University aims to solve this mystery.
Diet: zooplankton, krill, small fish.
The basking shark is found from the surface down to at least 910 metres