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COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Basking Shark (Pacific population) in Canada

Special Significance of the Species

The basking shark is monotypic within the family Cetorhinidae and is one of only three genera of filter feeding sharks. The earliest fossil records for basking sharks are thought to have originated between 35 and 29 million years ago (Leriche 1905; Martin pers. comm. 2005). Other noteworthy life history characteristics include the longest gestation of any vertebrate (estimated at 2.6 to 3.5 years), very late maturity, slow growth, probable low fecundity, all contributing to an extremely low intrinsic population growth rate. These traits make the basking shark extremely vulnerable to exploitation (Pauly 2002).

The trade of basking shark fins to Asian countries continues to be of international concern. The fins from basking sharks have fetched USD 30,000/t in international trade (Fairfax 1998). In 2000, the fins from basking sharks caught in Norway were valued at $2000 per shark. The recent inclusion of basking sharks under Appendix II of CITES is intended to regulate this trade. At present, there is a zero quota from European waters and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre has no recent records (Fowler pers. comm. 2004).

Basking sharks are a plausible explanation for some reports of sea serpents, sea monsters, and the Cadborosaurus (Caddy). There have been 181 ‘Caddy’ sightings in British Columbia since 1881 (Leblond and Bousfield 1995). Many of the stranded sea monsters between 1930 and 1960 were proven to be basking sharks; all known strandings of basking sharks (n=3) occurred in late fall, perhaps reflecting some unknown aspect of their life history.

Basking sharks fit the description of large charismatic mega-fauna and as such have proven to provide socio-economic benefits in places where their populations are accessible to eco-tourists.