What do Basking Sharks Eat

It is commonly believed that sharks eat anything they can grab easily and whatever they can swallow through their neck, but that is not the case at all. Just like humans have food preferences, so are the sharks. When you talk about the second-most largest species in terms of length, it becomes more important to find out what their diet consists of. Yes, we are talking about the basking sharks, the second largest species after the whale shark.

Reaching an approximate length of 40 feet, it makes the basking sharks the second largest, only after the whale shark, which has reported a maximum length of around 60 feet.

Sharks are in themselves amazing creatures, and when it comes to discussing their distinctive features, it fascinates you the more, such as the fact that they all have different food preferences.

Since we know how big the basking sharks are, the next thought that comes to our mind is what they eat, which makes them reach this length. You might have heard that the basking shark is one of the three shark species that mainly eat on plankton, but how true is that? Let’s explore it.

Basking sharks diet

Basking sharks belong to a family of giant-sized animals, and due to this, it is believed that they eat large marine creatures. But, it is far beyond the truth as basking sharks mainly rely on zooplankton, also called microscopic animals. Despite being one of the largest shark species, it preys on tiny animals.

With that said, their diet comprises invertebrates, zooplankton, and other small marine creatures, including fish. It also includes calanoid copepods, barnacles, shrimp, larvae, and small jellyfish.

As you can see, basking sharks eat small prey items even though they have large mouths. Why is that? You will find out in the below section where we will discuss the feeding habit of basking sharks. 

What is a basking shark’s favorite food?

It is clear from the above section that basking sharks feed on planktonic life, but what’s their favorite? Typically, sharks are not choosy when it comes to their diet, but they do have a level of preference.

When it comes to plankton, you will find two types, known as zooplankton and phytoplankton. Talking about the basking shark’s favorite food, it’s the zooplankton and, in particular, the copepods. However, as mentioned above, their diet is diverse.

How does the basking shark hunt?

The feeding habit of a basking shark is dissimilar from the rest of the shark’s family. In many rows, there are 100 teeth, which are very small. In addition to a greatly bloated mouth and astonishing gill rakers, it has evolved anatomical alterations for filter-feeding. Basking sharks catch prey by opening their mouths and allowing water to flood over their enlarged gill slits. Zooplanktons are then trapped in mucus-covered gill rakers. In short, by swimming forwards with their mouths open, basking sharks retrieve their prey with their gill rakers.

How much do basking sharks eat?

When you look at the size, it’s enormous, and it weighs up to six tons. The shark must be eating a lot, then? Let’s figure it out and see how much a basking shark eats.

In order to survive, basking sharks must eat a lot of plankton due to their enormous size. A plankton’s size requires them to consume millions every day, which may amount to hundreds of pounds. It is estimated that the gills filter more than 2,000 tons of water per hour.

Do basking sharks eat humans?

The size of basking sharks makes people imagine that if they ever encounter one, they will swallow them whole. Since basking sharks move slowly with their mouths open, they are able to consume most of their prey in one swim. What about humans?

While they may appear aggressive to humans, basking sharks are actually pretty harmless. When it comes to eating, their favorite food is already discussed above, and it does not include humans.

What eats basking sharks?

Being the second-largest, basking sharks may enjoy the dominance but not for too long since they have predators too. Ever heard that Orcas, also known as killer whales, have the capability to prey on sharks and tear them apart. For detailed information, check out What are the predators of sharks?

It is also noteworthy that basking sharks are frequently scarred, perhaps as a result of bumping into lampreys or cookiecutter sharks.


Basking sharks are the second-largest species of sharks in the marine domain, second only to the whale shark. The average basking shark is around 15 – 20 feet long, but it can grow up to 40 feet long.

The basking shark is a slow-moving filter feeder that feeds on small particles of zooplankton and other organic matter, along with tiny fish. It swims with its gigantic mouth wide open, filtering zooplankton from the water as it goes.