Basking shark. ©Ben James/SNH. All rights reserved. Please contact CMEU for details -

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 in Scottish waters for shark liver oil, which was used in various industries.  


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 is included within one of four additional possible Nature Conservation MPA to complete the Scottish MPA network.

Basking shark data have been recently collated and analysed in the pMPA. Zones were identified where basking sharks occur more frequently and are potentially more vulnerable to certain human activities. The zones provide a starting point for discussing with stakeholders during the pMPA public consultation.

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 NatureScot and the University of Exeter has deployed a total of 61 satellite tags on basking sharks in Scottish waters. The results are 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.
  • 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 Sharks group behaviour.


Camera tags capture underwater footage of basking sharks on Scotland’s west coast, including shots of group behaviour never been seen before. Credit: NatureScot and the University of Exeter.

Basking Shark tagging project video


This fascinating video highlights the research undertaken to help identify and underpin a Marine Protected Area for one of Scotland's most iconic marine species.

Find out more

Fresh insight into secret lives of basking sharks

Robot cameras reveal secret lives of basking sharks

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