Basking Sharks Are Showing Up Off the Southern California Coast

The species, which all but vanished decades ago, are known as gentle giants who glide through the water eating tiny food such as plankton

Basking sharks are being spotted frequently along the coast of Southern California, where the species all but vanished decades ago.

It has been 30 years since basking sharks have been seen in the area in large numbers, according to the Cal State Long Beach Shark Lab. There have been a spate of sightings off Ventura and in Santa Monica Bay.

Known as "gentle giants," basking sharks can grow to be 30 feet long, though the ones seen locally have been in the 18- to 25-foot range. Swimming with their mouths wide open and often near the surface, they are filter feeders, consuming tiny food such as plankton.

"They're not like your big characteristic predator sharks," said James Anderson, of the Shark Lab. "They're really just cruising around, filter feeding at the surface."

There appears to be a slight rebound in the population, based on recent videos and photos. More study is required before that can be confirmed, he added.

They can be found from Canada to Mexico, so it's possible they could be seen all along the California coast. They're gentle, slow-moving and likely no threat to humans, but Anderson advised people keep their distance. 

"You have more risk to them," he said. "The risk of boat-strike, someone harrassing them is going to be more of a risk. Try not to get to close to them. Try not to spook them."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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