Dozens of bus-sized basking sharks were found on the Southern California Coast in late March 2019.
These sharks are the world's second-largest fish. Basking sharks can measure up to 30 feet in length and weigh over 10,000 pounds. They are entirely harmless to humans since they don't have teeth. Basking sharks eat krill and plankton by capturing them in their mouths. This means they eat on the ocean surface and are found in big numbers in the temperate waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
By the 1960s, the sharks had almost all left the California coast. This was because people fished for the shark’s large fins, meat, and liver. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean allowed the killing of basking sharks because they interfered with salmon fishing operations. The sharks died in European waters as well for similar reasons.
However, by 2009, the animals were listed as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threaten Species. Since this March the ”gentle giants of the sea” have returned to their home in the past 30 years. Though researchers are unsure what caused sharks resurgence in California waters, they think warming oceans and more plankton brought the sharks back. While Heidi Dewar, of NOAA Fisheries South West Fisheries Science Center, agrees environmental elements may be at play, she is hesitant to draw conclusions. “I wish I had a good answer,” she said, but “We definitely know the ocean is changing.”
What makes reviving the shark's population harder is that marine scientist has very little knowledge of the animal’s habitat, behavior, and migratory patterns. Fortunately, this past April, Ryan Freedman, and his team from the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary, off of California’s Pacific Coast, managed to deploy satellite tags on two basking sharks in one day. The researchers plan to put four more tags on the sharks if the opportunity arises. This will provide them with more information about the elusive animals. “This data will help fill the gaps in our understanding of the basking sharks, movement, their overlap with fisheries, and how oceanography influences the species’ distribution,” said Dewar.