Shark stranding

Intern Whitney Armstrong took this picture of a stranded shark over the holidays near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and brought it in (the photo, not the shark) for identification.

This is a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus. Identification features include the cylindrical snout, the relatively uniform brownish color, the enormous gill slits, and the large body size. Basking sharks are the second-largest living sharks (only the whale shark is larger); Whitney measured this specimen at 24 feet, which is within the normal range for an adult basking shark. They are typically found worldwide in polar to temperate waters, but migrate to lower latitudes during the winter.

Basking sharks are filter feeders that eat invertebrates and small fish. While they appear toothless at a glance, they actually have several hundred tiny teeth (see the basking shark page under “Extant Dentitions” at These teeth have been reported as fossils from all over the world in Eocene and younger deposits, including the Miocene Pungo River Formation in North Carolina (see Purdy et al., 2001); Jim Bourdon has photos of some Pungo River examples.

Here is an interesting basking shark site, including videos and photos.

Thanks to Whitney for letting us post this interesting photo.

Reference: Purdy, R. W., V. P. Schneider, S. P. Applegate, J. H. McLellan, R. L. Meyer, and B. H. Slaughter, 2001. The Neogene Sharks, Rays, and Bony Fishes from Lee Creek Mine, Aurora, North Carolina. In C. R. Ray and D. J. Bohaska, eds., Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III, Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology No.90, pp. 71-202. (See Figure 22c-d.)
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3 Responses to Shark stranding

  1. Timothy says:

    I like the Basking shark. I didn’t know it was the second largest shark.

  2. Dan Omura says:

    I did not know basking sharks could live close to polar areas.
    Do you keep any fossil specimen of basking whales in VMNH?
    I hope you keep the webpage always with new updates!!!

  3. Alton Dooley says:

    Apparently you get large populations of basking sharks as far north as the Irish coast. It seems that they only move into subtropical areas in the winter.

    We don’t have any fossil basking sharks in our collection. They are known to occur in the Calvert Formation, but so far we haven’t found any in our Westmoreland or Carmel Church sediments (of course, they’re only a couple of millimeters long, so they’re easily overlooked.)

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