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Rare sighting of 20-foot basking shark off Southern California coast

A 20-foot shark lingering just outside the Dana Point Harbor might sound frightening, but don’t worry, this species won’t bite.
A basking shark – the second largest species just shy of the size of the whale shark – was spotted on Monday, May 20, by a whale watching crew aboard Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. The sharks swim with their mouths open filtering plankton and krill from the water.
The shark “mugged” for passengers, a term used with whales when they come up aside the boats and stick their heads out of the water.
It was a first-time sighting for boat captain Daniel Nersesyan, who said he was searching for a blue whale in the area when the basking shark made its surprise appearance.
“It very rare for us. It was incredible,” he said. “He pretty much swam right up to the boat. I though it was a dolphin. The closer it got, the larger it was.”
He said the shark was as long as the width of the boat.
“That’s the largest shark I’ve ever seen, hands down,” Nersesyan said.
The charter company last recorded a basking shark sighting by one of its crews on March 31, 2016 – prior to that, they had only been spotted twice, once in 2012 and again in 2013.
Rarely seen for three decades, basking sharks have been creating a buzz off the Southern California coast the past month. About a month ago, whale watching boats in Ventura and Santa Barbara were seeing big numbers of the bus-sized sharks, sometimes in schools of a dozen.
There have also been sporadic sightings reported off Long Beach and San Pedro recently, though Monday’s appearance is the first reported off the Orange County coast.
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Chris Lowe, director of Cal State Long Beach’s Shark Lab, has said the recent sightings could mean the basking shark population is starting to recover, or climate change is having an impact on where they go. It could also mean there is an abundance of plankton and krill, offering more food.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls basking sharks a “species of concern.”  There has been an apparent reduction in numbers and little sign of recovery in the population size despite some 50 years without being targeted by humans, the agency says. There’s also a lack of basic information on the biology of basking sharks.
Historically, there were at times thousands of basking sharks, but more recently only a few have been seen in any given year.

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