Latent power of basking sharks revealed by exceptional breaching events

Emmett M Johnston, Lewis G Halsey, Nicholas L Payne, Alison A Kock, Gil Iosilevskii, Bren Whelan, Jonathan D R Houghton

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The fast swimming and associated breaching behaviour of endothermic mackerel sharks is well suited to the capture of agile prey. In contrast, the observed but rarely documented breaching capability of basking sharks is incongruous to their famously languid lifestyle as filter-feeding planktivores. Indeed, by analysing video footage and an animal-instrumented data logger, we found that basking sharks exhibit the same vertical velocity (approx. 5 m s-1) during breach events as the famously powerful predatory great white shark. We estimate that an 8-m, 2700-kg basking shark, recorded breaching at 5 m s-1 and accelerating at 0.4 m s-2, expended mechanical energy at a rate of 5.5 W kg-1; a mass-specific energetic cost comparable to that of the great white shark. The energy cost of such a breach is equivalent to around 1/17th of the daily standard metabolic cost for a basking shark, while the ratio is about half this for a great white shark. While breaches by basking sharks must serve a different function to white shark breaches, their similar breaching speeds questions our perception of the physiology of large filter-feeding fish.

Original languageEnglish
Article number 20180537
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2018


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