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​Breaching Basker Reveals Exceptional Abilities

New research undertaken by a team of Donegal-based researchers and led by Queen's University Belfast has uncovered some startling new insights into the explosive power of the biggest fish in the Atlantic Ocean: the basking shark. Emmett Johnston, a part-time PhD researcher at QUB, organized the research study in collaboration with the University of Roehampton, Technion Institute Israel, University of Cape Town and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

The study was undertaken off the coast of Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland. It pioneers the use of custom-built technologies (www.cats.is) to revisit long-standing and elusive scientific questions. Published in the journal Biology Letters, results of the study show how the common ancestry and morphology of the docile basking shark and the predatory great white shark is reflected in their performance capacity during exceptional breaching events (vertical velocity of ~5 m/s).


Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, reaching lengths up to 10m (33ft). They previously had a reputation for being slow and languid, as they are often observed scouring the sea for their staple diet of plankton. The research used video analysis for both this species and the related great white to estimate vertical swimming speeds at the moment of leaving the water upon a breach. One large basking shark was also outfitted with a data-recording device to measure speed, movement and live video. At one point during deployment of the recording device, in just over nine seconds and 10 tail beats, the basking shark accelerated from a depth of 28 m to the surface and broke through the water at nearly 90 degrees. The shark cleared the water for one second and peaked at a height of 1.2 m above the surface.

The study concludes that the striking similarities in the athletic performance of the two iconic shark species overturns conventional thinking to expose nearly indistinguishable physiological characteristics that were hidden by an overriding focus on their contrasting lifestyles. More broadly, the research demonstrates how new technological capabilities can complement, rather than supersede, elementary scientific principles when tackling previously elusive questions.

Further details of the research can be found at this link:

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/14/9/20180537

Videos of the shark breaching can be seen via the groups you tube channel here:

https://www.youtube.com/user/wwwbaskingsharkie