First evidence in more than a decade of endangered and ‘weird’ shark traveling to Canada

Named one of the world’s ‘weirdest’ animals by National Geographic, basking sharks are also the second largest shark after the whale shark. They are also Canada’s most endangered marine fish as the Pacific Ocean population is almost extinct. That’s why any confirmation of transatlantic movement for the large-mouthed leviathan is a game-changing finding.

A new study recently published by Journal of Fish Biology from Queen’s University Belfast and Western University details only the second recorded evidence of transatlantic movement for the species and the first proof in more than a decade. The last recorded evidence for transatlantic movement was gathered in 2008 when a female basking shark tagged with a tracking device moved from the Irish Sea to continental waters off the coast of Newfoundland.

Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, the 2nd largest fish in the sea, feeding by straining plankton through gill rakers, off Land’s End, Cornwall, United Kingdom (North Atlantic Ocean). Credit: Doug Perrine

This time around, images of another female basking shark were captured by an underwater photographer off the coast of Cape Cod an incredible 993 days after it was fitted with a satellite transmitter at Malin Head, the most northern point of Ireland.


The study is a collaboration between Paul Mensink from Western’s Faculty of Science and a team of researchers from Queen’s University Belfast led by Emmett Johnston and Jonathan Houghton.

“For this animal to show up across the ocean three years after it was tagged in Ireland highlights that we really need an international mindset when seeking to conserve this species,” says Houghton. “In the era of big data, it is amazing how much these fortuitous re-sightings of individual animals can tell us about an entire species,” says Mensink.

As Western celebrates International Week, Houghton is visiting campus for the next few days giving a series of talks and lectures – sponsored by Western’s Science International – about basking sharks, sea turtles and other aquatic life.

Media are invited to attend these events and speak with Mensink and Houghton about biodiversity, wildlife conservation and climate change.