Sharks are one of the most interesting cartilaginous fish. This animal causes both admiration and wild fear at the same time. In nature, there are many varieties of sharks, among which it is impossible not to single out the giant shark. It ranks second in the world in terms of size. A giant shark can weigh about four tons, and the length of the fish is usually at least nine meters.
Origin of the species and description
Giant sharks belong to the species “Cetorhinus Maximus”, which can literally be translated as “The Greatest Sea Monster”. This is exactly how people describe this fish, marveling at its large size and awesome appearance. The British call this shark “Basking”, which means “Loving warmth.” This name was given to the animal for the habit of sticking its caudal and dorsal fins out of the water. It is believed that this is how the shark basks in the sun.
Interesting fact: The giant shark has a very bad reputation. In the eyes of people, it is a ferocious predator capable of swallowing a person whole.
There is some truth in this – the size of the animal really allows it to completely swallow the average person. However, giant sharks are not at all interested in people as food. They feed exclusively on plankton.
The giant shark is a large pelagic shark. It belongs to the monotypic family. This is the only species that belongs to the monotic genus of the same name – “Cetorhinus”. As noted above, this species occupies the second place of honor in terms of the size of fish. This species is classified as a migratory species of animals. Giant sharks are found in all temperate waters, live both alone and in small flocks.
Appearance and features
Giant sharks have a rather specific appearance. The body is loose, the weight of the animal can reach four tons. Against the background of the whole body, a huge mouth and large gill slits stand out clearly. The gaps keep getting bigger. The body length is at least three meters. Body color gray-brown, may include specks. The shark has two fins on its back, one on the tail, and two more on the belly.
Video: Giant shark
The tail fin is asymmetrical. The top of the caudal fin is slightly larger than the bottom. The eyes of the shark are round and smaller than those of most relatives. However, this does not affect visual acuity in any way. Giant fish see perfectly. The length of the teeth does not exceed five to six millimeters. But this predator does not need large teeth. It feeds only on small organisms.
Interesting fact: The largest giant shark was a female. Its length was 9.8 meters. According to unconfirmed reports, there are individuals in the oceans whose length is as much as fifteen meters. And the maximum weight that was officially registered is four tons. The length of the smallest shark caught was 1.7 meters.
Where does the giant shark live?
The natural habitat of basking sharks includes:
- The Pacific Ocean. Sharks live off the coasts of Chile, Korea, Peru, Japan, China, Zealand, Australia, California, Tasmania;
- North and Mediterranean Sea;
- Atlantic Ocean. These fish have been seen off the coast of Iceland, Norway, Brazil, Argentina, Florida;
- the waters of Great Britain, Scotland.
Giant sharks live only in cool and warm waters. They prefer water temperatures between eight and fourteen degrees Celsius. However, sometimes these fish swim in warmer waters. Shark habitats are up to nine hundred and ten meters deep. People, on the other hand, meet giant sharks in narrow exits from bays or off the coast. These fish like to swim close to the surface with their fins sticking out.
Sharks of this species are migratory. Their movements are associated with temperature changes in their habitat and the redistribution of plankton. It is generally accepted that in winter, sharks descend into deep water, and in summer they move to a shallow zone near the coast. This is how they survive colder temperatures. In search of food, giant sharks are able to travel great distances. This became known thanks to scientists’ observations of tagged fish.
What does the giant shark eat?
The giant shark, despite its huge size and wide mouth, has very tiny teeth. Against the background of the mouth, they are almost imperceptible, so the animal looks toothless. The mouth of a shark is so large that it can swallow the average person whole. However, this predator is not interested in such large prey at all, so divers can even watch this fish in its natural environment at a safe distance.
The gastronomic preferences of the giant shark are rather meager. These animals are only interested in small living creatures, in particular, plankton. Scientists often refer to the basking shark as a passive leachate or a live net. This fish travels huge distances every day with its mouth open, thus stuffing its stomach with plankton. The stomach of this fish is huge. It can hold up to one ton of plankton. The shark seems to be filtering the water. In one hour, about two tons of water passes through its gills.
The giant shark needs a lot of food for the normal functioning of its body. However, in the warm and cold seasons, the amount of food consumed is significantly different. In summer, in spring, fish eats about seven hundred calories in one hour, and in winter – only four hundred.
Features of character and lifestyle
Most giant sharks lead a solitary lifestyle. Only a few of them prefer to live in small flocks. The whole point of life for such a huge fish is to find food. These sharks spend whole days in the process of slow swimming. They swim with their mouths open, filtering the water and picking up plankton for themselves. Their average speed is 3.7 kilometers per hour. Giant sharks swim close to the surface with their fins out.
If giant sharks often appear on the surface of the water, then this means that the concentration of plankton has increased significantly. Another reason may be the mating period. These animals are slow, but under certain conditions they are able to make a sharp jerk out of the water. This is how sharks get rid of parasites. In spring and summer, this fish swims at a depth of no more than nine hundred meters, while in winter it sinks lower. This is due to a decrease in water temperature and the amount of plankton on the surface.
Interesting fact: In winter, this type of shark has to diet. This is due not only to a reduction in livestock, but also to a decrease in the efficiency of the natural “filtering” apparatus of the animal. Fish just can’t filter a lot of water looking for plankton.
Giant sharks can communicate with each other. They do it with gestures. Despite the tiny eyes, these animals have excellent vision. They easily recognize the visual gestures of their relatives.
Social structure and reproduction
Giant sharks can be called social animals. They can exist both alone and as part of a small flock. Usually flocks of such fish number no more than four individuals. Only occasionally sharks can move in huge flocks – up to a hundred heads. In a flock of sharks behave calmly, peacefully. Giant sharks grow very slowly. Sexual maturity occurs only at the age of twelve, or even later. Fish are ready for breeding when they reach a body length of at least four meters.
The breeding season of fish falls on the warm season. In spring, sharks break into pairs, mating in shallow coastal waters. Little is known about the breeding process of giant sharks. Presumably, the gestation period of the female lasts at least one year and can reach three and a half years. The lack of information is due to the fact that pregnant sharks of this species were caught extremely rarely. Pregnant females try to stay deep. They give birth there as well.
The babies are not connected to the mother by a placental connection. First they feed on yellow, then on eggs that have not been fertilized. During one pregnancy, a giant shark can carry five to six cubs. Sharks are born 1.5 meters long.
Giant sharks’ natural enemies
Giant sharks are large fish, so they have very few natural enemies.
Their enemies are:
- parasites and symbionts. Sharks are plagued by nematodes, cestodes, crustaceans, Brazilian luminous sharks. They also suck on sea lampreys. Parasites cannot lead to the death of such a huge animal, but they cause him a lot of anxiety and leave characteristic scars on the body. To get rid of parasitic organisms, the shark has to abruptly jump out of the water or actively rub against the seabed;
- other fish. Fish dare to attack giant sharks very rarely. Among such daredevils, white sharks, killer whales and tiger sharks were noticed. It is problematic to answer how these skirmishes end. It is unlikely that they can lead to the death of the animal. An exception may be fish in old age or sick;
- people. Man can be called the worst natural enemy of giant sharks. The liver of this animal is sixty percent fat, the value of which is enormous. For this reason, giant sharks are a tasty prey for poachers. These fish swim slowly and do not hide from people. They can be used for sale almost completely: including not only the liver, but even the skeleton.
Population and species status
Giant sharks are unique, huge fish that are one of the largest sources of squalene. One animal can give about two thousand liters! Also, the meat of these sharks is edible. In addition, people eat fins. They make an excellent soup. And the skin, cartilage, and other parts of the fish are used in folk medicine. However, today, practically throughout the entire territory of the natural range, fishing for these fish is not carried out.
Sharks of this species practically do not harm humans. They do not attack people, as they prefer to feed only on plankton. You can even touch a giant shark with your hand, but you should be careful, because you can get hurt on placoid scales. Their only harm lies in ramming small fishing boats. Perhaps the fish perceive them as a shark of the opposite sex. The absence of official fishing is associated with the gradual extinction of the species. The number of giant sharks is decreasing. These fish have been given a conservation status of “Vulnerable”.
The population of giant sharks has declined significantly, so the animals have been given more than a characteristic conservation status. These sharks have been included in the International Red Book, and a number of states have developed special measures for their protection.
Protection of giant sharks
The population of giant sharks today is quite low, which is due but with a number of reasons:
- slow natural reproduction of animal populations;
- death in fishing nets;
- deterioration of the ecological situation.
Due to the impact of the above factors, the number of giant sharks has significantly decreased. This was mainly influenced by fishing and poaching, which in some countries still flourish. And due to natural features, the population of giant sharks simply does not have time to recover. Poachers, who catch animals for the purpose of their own profit, constantly negatively affect the population.
Due to the decrease in the number of giant sharks, the animal was listed in the International Red Book. A special plan was also developed to preserve the species. A number of states have introduced certain restrictions that contribute to the conservation of the Giant Shark species. The first restrictions on fishing were introduced by Great Britain. Then Malta, USA, New Zealand, Norway joined it. However, in most countries the ban does not apply to dying or dead animals. Such sharks can be taken on board, disposed of or sold. Thanks to the measures taken, it is still possible to preserve the existing population of giant sharks.
The giant shark is a unique underwater inhabitant that delights with its size and intimidating appearance. However, despite this appearance, these sharks, unlike their closest relatives, are absolutely safe for humans. They feed exclusively on plankton.