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Yacht-sized sharks back in west coast waters after 30 years

Sunday, May 5th 2019, 5:15 pm - One expert describes the shark a 'bus with a tail'

It seems as though the basking shark has decided it's 'safe to go back in the water'.

The enormous animals have again been spotted off the coast of Southern California, marking the end of a 30-year absence. The second-largest known species of shark, basking sharks can grow to the size of busses or small yachts, reaching about 30 feet (9 metres) in length and tip the scales at 8,000 pounds (3600 kg).

Capt. Skip Rutzick, who operates The Duchess Yacht Charter Service out of Marina del Rey, told local media he'd spotted two of the animals since late March, capturing one on video (below).

"I’ve been on the ocean 1,000 times in the last five years and I’ve seen many whales, I couldn’t tell you how many thousands of dolphins, and the very rare ocean sunfish the Mola mola," Rutzick told The Argonaut, "but to see a basking shark was very special."

Once plentiful along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to Mexico, the basking shark population in the region dropped dramatically in the 1900s, when they were targeted in fisheries and eradication programs, according to NOAA's West Coast Region Fisheries agency. They've been all but unknown along the coast since the 1990s.

While the animals may look intimidating, they have a reputation for being 'gentle giants'. Basking sharks aren't aggressive, and they don't bite. "They're not like your big characteristic predator sharks," James Anderson of the Shark Lab told local media. "They're really just cruising around, filter feeding at the surface."

Their return to California coastal waters seems like a good sign, but researchers say their scarcity makes it hard to be certain if they're really making a comeback.

"We don't have enough data points nor enough basic information to say what is going on with their population with any confidence," Heidi Dewar, a NOAA marine biologist told SFGate. "Basking sharks are California's largest shark and yet most people have never heard of them." Listed as a Species of Concern by the organization, it's possible basking sharks would be on the endangered species list if NOAA had more information about them. The animals are more common in Atlantic waters, including off the shores of the Maritimes and Newfoundland.


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