Curators and scientists at Australia’s Museum Victoria are feeling fortunate to have their hands on a 21 foot-long basking shark that died in a fishing net two days ago. Although they would prefer the endangered shark “alive and in the sea,” the museum’s senior collections manager told the Guardian, “this is a fantastic opportunity and is also why we are so glad the skipper of the vessel is donating rather than discarding the shark.”
The basking shark, or Cetorhinus maximus, is the second-largest fish in the world. It’s one of three non-carnivorous shark species, a “gentle giant” that subsists on plankton. These sharks are found all across the globe but are reportedly hardly ever seen in Australian waters, which is why the crew of a fishing trawler was so surprised to haul one in off the coast of Victoria.
Millions of sharks are accidentally killed this way each year, along with countless other marine species, in what is known as “bycatch.” The Australians who caught the basking shark this week could have sold or kept the body, so their decision to donate it to science is being looked on admirably. For some Indonesian fishermen, officially out to capture tuna, sharks in the net are profitable byproducts of the trade.
Museum Victoria previously only had basking shark teeth and skin samples to put on exhibit. Now that the museum has a whole body to work with, its employees and research associates are tackling a handful of preservation, research, and exhibition projects.