Basking Shark

Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation of the Basking Shark

The movements, behaviour and ecology of the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) have been studied by the Behavioural Ecology Group since 1995, and is the longest running of our projects. Prior to this initiative almost nothing was known about ithe behaviour of basking sharks. By combining field observations, boat tracking and zooplankton sampling, with satellite and archival tracking, we have begun to reveal its patterns of behaviour. Over 20 scientific papers have resulted from this programme.

Ground breaking discoveries have been made including quantifying fine-scale foraging tactics along fronts (Nature, June 1998), threshold foraging behaviour (Proc. R. Soc. B, 1999), identification and characterisation of courtship behaviour (Proc. R. Soc. B, 2000), that basking sharks do not hibernate in winter (MEPS, 2003), but show habitat-specific diving behaviour linked to zooplankton migrations (J. Anim. Ecol., 2005), and that they exhibit theoretically optimal search behaviour also present in other marine predators (Nature, Feb 2008). A comprehensive review of basking shark biology, ecology and conservation has also been completed (Adv. Mar. Biol., 2008).
You can download these articles from our Publications section.

We are still actively analysing data from our electronic tag deployments on over 30 individual sharks between 2001 and 2005. We are planning new deployments of smarter tags in the near future…

Our in-depth research on the behaviour and ecology of basking sharks has also contributed to UK government-driven proposals for their protection and conservation, including successful CITES (2002) and CMS (Bonn Convention) (2005) appendix I and II listings.

People involved: mainly Professor David Sims, Dr Emily Southall (MBA), Dr Julian Metcalfe (Cefas Lowestoft), and many other great colleagues since 1995.

Funding: NERC, Defra, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Royal Society, Fisheries Society of the British Isles.