A group of Orange County whale watchers on Saturday enjoyed a rare up-close view of a basking shark, which measured about 20 feet and loitered near their boat long enough for the crew to capture video footage.
The evening sighting, from a Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari vessel, was at least the second off the Dana Point area in two weeks. Fishermen out of Dana Wharf Sportfishing spotted a basking shark of similar size on April 25.
Basking sharks, which are docile plankton-feeders, are the planet's second largest shark species, next to whale sharks. They're found in temperate oceans and can measure 45 feet. They feed mostly on swarms of copepods and other zooplankton.
Though sightings off Southern California are rare, most are made in the spring, perhaps because more food is available.
They're mysterious creatures. Scientists do not have reliable population estimates and know little about migration patterns, but they are known to utilize coastal waters off Baja California, and in the spring of 2010 the capture of a 25-foot basking shark by fishermen off Rosarito Beach made headlines.
Basking sharks were once hunted globally for their fins, oil, meat and vitamin-rich livers. They're classified as vulnerable or endangered, depending on the region. In the eastern Pacific they were once commonly found off Central California and Canada.
Southern California boaters who sight a basking shark are asked to email information to email@example.com, or telephone (858) 334-2884.