The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest living fish, after the whale shark. It is a cosmopolitan migratory species, found in all the world's temperate oceans. It is a slow moving and generally harmless filter feeder and has anatomical adaptations to filter feeding, such as a greatly enlarged mouth and highly developed gill rakers. The shape of its snout is conical and the gill slits extend around the top and bottom of its head. The gill rakers are dark and bristle-like and are used to catch plankton as water filters through the mouth and over the gills. The basking shark is usually greyish-brown in colour and often seems to have a mottled appearance. The caudal (tail) fin has a strong lateral keel and a crescent shape. The teeth of the basking shark are very small and numerous and often number one hundred per row. The teeth themselves have a single conical cusp, are curved backwards and are the same on both the upper and lower jaws.
Basking sharks are a migrating species and are believed to overwinter in deep waters. They may occur in either small schools or alone. Small schools in the Bay of Fundy have been seen swimming nose to tail in circles in what may be a form of mating behavior. Basking sharks are not aggressive and are generally harmless to people.
It has long been a commercially important fish, as a source of food, shark fin, animal feed, and shark liver oil. Overexploitation has reduced its populations to the point that some have apparently disappeared and others need protection.
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