Big Sur – Squid fisherman Kevin Reynolds was out on his boat Thursday when he traveled back in time.
Once, there was a day when basking sharks roamed the waters of the Monterey Bay. The world’s second-largest fish — bigger than great whites, and while frightening-looking, harmless to humans — basking sharks are now a rare site in the waters off the Monterey Peninsula.
But while working near the Big Sur coast on Thursday, Reynolds estimated he saw 50 of them.
“I have been going on the ocean for 20 years and have only seen four basking sharks in my whole life,” marine biologist Giancarlo Thomae said. “Because of the rarity of these animals, it is extremely difficult for researchers to tag these animals, or study them.”
Once common and now a very unusual site, basking sharks were spotted in abundance Thursday off Big Sur. A squid boat captain reported seeing as many as 50, capturing the one shown here on a cellphone camera. (Courtesy of Kevin Reynolds)
Such large schools, or “shivers,” were once common before basking sharks nearly went extinct after they were hunted for liver oil. They are true giants, averaging 25 feet in length, and feed on plankton by opening their massive mouths as they swim through the water.
In John Steinbeck’s “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” Steinbeck describes former Herald reporter and editor Jimmy Costello being summoned to Moss Landing to investigate a “sea-serpent” that washed out of the sea. Costello arrived to find a note tacked to the dead animal, signed by a Hopkins Marine Station biologist, telling him not to worry: it was merely a basking shark.