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Huge 500 kg shark caught by Danish fishermen

The 'basking shark' species is protected but was caught by mistake in a fisherman’s net. Now at University of Copenhagen's museum of natural history

Until Tuesday, the University of Copenhagen’s Museum of Natural History didn’t have a shark in their collection.

But then research associate Henrik Carl brought to the museum a ‘basking shark’ (Species: cetorhinus maximus) that had been caught by mistake by a lobster fisherman in Gilleleje on the main island of Zealand. News travels fast among fishermen when something like this happens and so other fishermen hurried to tell the story to Henrik Carl.

“The shark having already being dead gave us the unique opportunity for us to do research on it and to add the ‘basking shark’ to our fish atlas , which is being prepared. So in that sense, I was happy, although I would have preferred for it to be alive,” says Henrik Carl.

Preserved in one piece

The Basking Shark is the world’s second largest fish species. It can grow up to 12 meters long and is rarely found in Danish waters. In order to avoid putrefaction the shark was put in formalin on Wednesday. As expected that wasn’t an easy task.

“It is a difficult exercise , since it is very large and hard to handle for us and there aren’t many that have the space to keep a four meter long basking shark,” says Henrik Carl.

Photo: Anders Peter Schultz, Statens Naturhistoriske Museum

Another advantage of preserving the shark as a whole is that the museum can carry out research experiments on it. “There was no one here who had anticipated getting a basking shark so we first have to think about what would be interesting to investigate about it,” says Henrik Carl.

Swimmers no worries

The Museum might for example want to know the shark’s age. That can be found out by examining its eye structure, a method also used in the Greenland whales. Researchers can also learn something about their food preferences and examine the shark’s DNA to find out which stock it belongs to.

Only the whale shark, which can grow up to 15 meters long, is larger than the basking shark. However, there is nothing to worry about you’re on a Northern European beach with water up to your neck on a hot summer day: “The basking shark feeds only on plankton, so it is not a danger for humans,” reassures Henrik Carl.

This also applies to other large fish in Northern European waters: ”We have, for example, also the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus), which can easily cut a seal in half with their bite. However these sharks live in deep water and are here only during winter. Therefore they don’t represent a danger to swimmers”.

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