The basking shark is one of the largest marine animals in the Mediterranean, second in size only to the fin whale. A tireless swimmer, it can cross oceans to reach feeding grounds teeming with plankton.

In spite of its size and its habit to swim at the surface, the basking shark is seldom seen in the wild, especially in the Mediterranean. Hunted for 200 years for its liver and now for its fins, this shark is in danger of extinction.

In 2006 MedSharks, in cooperation with Sardinian marine parks La Maddalena, Asinara and Tavolara, launched Operazione Squalo Elefante (OSE), the first field reseach in the Mediterranean targeting this mysterious animal. Look at the online presentation for the 41 SIBM congress (2010) or download the paper (in English). Here is the 2011 poster we presented at the European Elasmobranch Association meeting in Berlin. We’ll be presenting more at the 2012 meeting in Milan.

What we have discovered so far

After setting up a network of observers, which includes fishermen and yachtsmen, we collected their information and built a database of basking sharks sightings and captures: we could therefore pinpoint Sardinia as the area with the highest number of sightings in the Mediterranean sea. With the help of oceanographers, we’re trying to understand why and what attracts them here.

We collect muscle samples for DNA and toxicology analysis and set up a photo catalogue of these sharks’ dorsal fins, which are the equivalent of fingerprints in humans. We will soon compare these images with scientists abroad to see if “our” animals are the same seen in the Atlantic during summer. We also tagged a basking shark, for the first time in the Mediterranean sea.

If you saw a basking shark, in Sardinia or anywhere else in the Mediterranean, please let us know! Drop us an email at


The first field research of basking sharks in the Mediterranean sea, conducted by MedSharks