A 20-foot-long basking shark was caught near Portland, Australia, making it the first shark of its species to be caught since the 1930s. Basking sharks are the second-largest fish in the sea, but scientists rarely get to study the gentle, plankton-eating giants up close and personal, CNN reported.
Dianne Bray, the senior collections manage at Museum Victoria, said the shark was uncommon. "There was one caught in 1883 in Portland and driven all the way up to Melbourne for a few days, so we have some skin and teeth from that specimen," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Prior to this ... we only had some gill arches from the one that came into Lakes Entrance in 1930.
"Some of them know that they can follow plankton blooms, but I don't think they would be doing that in southern Australia."
Bray added that the shark, which was accidentally caught by commercial fishermen, could unlock new knowledge about the shark. "We'll bring some vertebrae back because we've got scientists interested in doing some ageing studies to find out how old it is," she said.
The male fish is 20 feet long and weighs more than 6,500 pounds. Basking sharks can grow to 40 feet long.
"We'll take skin samples for DNA work, and also some muscle tissue for stable isotope analysis, so that people can look at studies of what these things are actually eating.
"One of the ideas we have, if it's in good condition, is to make a cast of the fins and the head so we can make a model of a basking shark.”
This particular specimen was so large, it took a crane to lift it out of the boat. Scientists had to cut the shark’s body into multiple pieces to transport it for study, The Herald Sun reported.
"These rare encounters can provide many of the missing pieces of knowledge that help broader conservation and biological research," Martin Gomon, Museum Victoria's senior curator of ichthyology, told CNN.
The find is especially important because basking sharks are vulnerable to the shark fin trade, which thrives in Asia. Basking sharks are protected under international laws, but illegal poaching is still pervasive.
Image: Screenshot, James Owen via The Herald Sun