(Photo by Alan James)
Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are recognized by their huge sizes, conical snouts, extremely large gill slits, and dark bristle-like gill rakers inside the gills (present most of the year). Basking sharks are the second largest fish, only surpassed by the whale shark. Their average size is 6.7-8.8m. The largest measured basking shark was 9.75m, and a 9.14m long individual was recorded that weighed 3,900kg. There are also unconfirmed reports of basking sharks up to 13.7m long. The basking shark can open its cavernous mouth up to 1.2m wide, allowing water to pass over the gill rakers, which strain small fishes and invertebrates out of the water. They are often seen feeding near the surface. Basking shark populations have been declining since the 1970s; they never fully recovered from the large scale commercial fisheries of the 1950s and remain over-fished in the North Atlantic. Though you might want to steer clear of its mouth, the basking shark is not considered dangerous.