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Basking shark

The world’s second largest fish – a gentle, toothless giant, which feeds solely on plankton – cruises Scottish waters each summer.

We are lucky to have the second largest fish in the world cruising Scottish waters each summer – an exciting sight! The basking shark grows up to 10m (33ft) long, and a few places in Scotland are particular hotspots for seeing them. They are fish of open waters, but move closer to shores in summer, when we can see them 'basking' at the surface, feeding with their huge mouths wide open. These gentle giants have no teeth, and their massive bodies are nourished entirely by plankton soup, filtering millions of litres of water an hour through its gills! Basking sharks were once fished commercially on a small scale in Scottish waters for shark liver oil, which was used in various industries. The peak recorded kill, in 1947, was close to 250 sharks.


Globally, the basking shark is considered a vulnerable species. In Scotland, the basking shark is a protected species of fish, with full legal protection in place since 1998.

Learn about fish and licensing.

The basking shark is also a priority marine feature in Scotland’s seas and has recently been included within one of four additional Nature Conservation MPA proposals for designation to complete the Scottish MPA network.

The Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code alongside the Wildlife Safe (WiSe Scheme) provide the best guidance for wildlife watching operators, and will help us all enjoy and support the conservation of this magnificent fish.

Satellite tagging project

This joint project between Scottish Natural Heritage and the University of Exeter has deployed a total of 61 satellite tags on basking sharks in Scottish waters. The results have just been published in our final report, and within two scientific journals. Key findings:

  • Tagged sharks demonstrated high levels of fidelity to waters around Coll, Tiree, Hyskeir in the Sea of the Hebrides during summer months (July to September).
  • The first evidence is presented to show that individual sharks returned to the same areas in consecutive summers, after migrating south as far as the Canary Islands in winter.

Basking shark tagging project


Basking shark tagging project

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