Basking shark filmed jumping as high and as fast as a great white

You thought the world’s second largest fish was slow and languid – think again! (video)

Basking sharks can jump as high and as fast as a great white - University of Roehampton research reveals

A team of scientists, including two from the University of Roehampton, has discovered that basking sharks, hundreds of which live off the shores of Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland, can jump as fast and as high out of the water as their cousin, the famously powerful and predatory great white shark. Basking sharks, the second largest fish in the world reaching lengths up to 10m (33ft), have previously had a reputation for being slow and languid as they scour the sea for their staple diet of plankton. The research used video analysis for both species to estimate vertical swimming speeds at the moment of leaving the water. Furthermore, they fitted one large basking shark with a data recording device to measure speed, movement and which also stored video. 

At one point during deployment of the recording device, in just over nine seconds and 10 tail beats, the basking shark accelerated from a depth of 28 m to the surface, breaking through the water at nearly 90 degrees. The shark cleared the water for one second and peaked at a height of 1.2 m above the surface. 

To achieve this breach, the basking shark exhibited a six fold increase in tail beat frequency and attained a top speed of approx. 5.1 m/s. This is more than twice as fast as the average competitor in the Olympic men’s 50m freestyle swim. The videos from boats and the land of both basking sharks and great whites breaching showed similar speeds of breaching in other individuals. The basking shark videos were recorded in 2015 at Malin Head, Ireland. The white shark videos were recorded in 2009 at two sites in South Africa, during predation attempts on Cape fur seals using seal shaped decoys. 

Lewis Halsey, a reader in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Roehampton and one of the scientists involved, said: “The results of the research put the basking shark in a new athletic light. While there are no recorded incidents of them being of danger to swimmers or small boats, unlike the great white shark, we now know they do have an impressive ability to swim at great speeds and jump clear of the water.” 

The research team comprised Queen’s University Belfast, University of Roehampton, Trinity College Dublin, University of Cape Town, Irish Basking Shark Study Group and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.