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Massive Basking Shark Washes Ashore: Scientist to Perform Necropsy

First Posted: Apr 29, 2013 10:09 AM EDT
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A massive, 28-foot-long basking shark washed ashore on a Rhode Island beach just this morning. Weighing several tons, the dead shark attracted the curious glances of beach-goers as they took photos and touched the remains of the animal.

The second largest fish in the world after the whale shark, basking sharks can reach almost 40 feet in length and weigh several tons. Unlike other sharks, though, basking sharks don't have the sharp, serrated teeth that most of its cousins are known for. Instead, the basking shark is a filter feeder, gobbling down plankton as it opens its massive jaws.

Unfortunately, these gentle giants are extremely vulnerable to fishing. Because of their slow growth rate and lengthy maturation time, these sharks reproduce very slowly. Currently, the species is listed as vulnerable. Like most sharks, the basking shark is at risk of being caught for the shark fin trade, a practice that involves catching the shark, cutting off its fins and, sometimes, dumping the rest of the body back into the water where the shark then suffocates. The fins are then dried and used in food, such as shark fin soup.

A study actually estimates that about 100 million sharks are killed each year, a number that's unsustainable since it can take years for sharks to grow to maturity and then reproduce. Because shark populations are drastically declining, several species have been given protections recently and the practice of shark finning is being outlawed in some areas.

Currently, Mystic Aquarium is investigating the basking shark that has washed ashore this morning, according to The Day. A representative has already taken photos of the dead shark, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center is expected to have a shark biologist perform a necropsy on the creature in order to find out exactly what may have led to its demise.

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