Photo: Pacific basking shark granted legal protection

(Credit: Saul Gonor)

By Dr. Scott Wallace, Sustainable Fisheries Analyst

Admittedly I have a soft spot for Canada's largest and most endangered fish species—the basking shark. In 2006 I wrote a book describing our shameful history with this animal and our efforts to eradicate them from our Pacific waters. Half a century has passed since large schools of basking sharks have frequented British Columbia. On March 17, 2010, the Pacific basking shark became the first endangered marine fish species to be granted legal protection under Canada's Species at Risk Act. The legal listing is in part due to the many Canadians who voiced their support to legally protect this species.

The challenge now is how to assist their recovery back to historic levels. We know they are an easy animal to kill because they are big, slow, unafraid of humans, and are often found on the surface making them vulnerable to humans. They are not so easy to recover, as they do not reproduce until late into their teenage years, do not carry many young, are slow growing, and live a long time. The population is thought to have declined to such low numbers that even under optimistic scenarios it may take centuries to rebuild the population.

Last summer I had the opportunity to join a film crew on the Isle of Man who were making a documentary on basking sharks. I was fortunate to see basking sharks for the first time, a life highlight for me. With the added legal protection I am hopeful that Canada's future generations will be able to see them cruising along our coast again.

For more information visit the Species at Risk Public Registry.

March 25, 2010

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Jun 29, 2010
6:00 PM

That is a terrifying creature.

Aug 05, 2011
12:09 PM

About 20 years ago, I had the fantastic experience of seeing a basking shark while canoeing in Barclay Sound, near Bamfield, BC. It was incredible, such a huge creature only about a foot under the canoe! I’ll never forget that day and am glad that this gentle giant will now be protected.
All the best from Denmark Mary Ann

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