Forgotten Giants: The Past, Present, and Future of Basking Sharks in the Salish Sea and Beyond

If you're surprised to hear that the 2nd largest fish on the planet used to be abundant in the shared waters of British Columbia and Washington, you're not alone! Now almost forgotten, the Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) - which reaches sizes of up to 12 m (40 ft) - used to be abundant from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico. Although these giant filter-feeders are harmless to humans, they were hunted and persecuted throughout much of the 20th century, first for their oil-rich livers and then because they were impeding profitable salmon fisheries by getting tangled in gillnets. In British Columbia in 1949, they were put on the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans list of 'destructive pests', and from 1955 to 1969 a Federal eradication program was directed at them. Today, only a handful of sightings are reported from throughout British Columbia and Washington each year. Can this enigmatic wonder of our ocean world that has survived as a species for at least 30 million years recover here in the Northeast Pacific? How has our treatment of them shifted and what might we do to better understand them and their habitat, and 'turn the tide' for them, and for us? 

About the Speaker

The speaker in a canoe at dusk.
Romney McPhie
Science Coordinator with the Tula Foundation’s Ocean Decade Collaborative Center for the Northeast Pacific and Hakai Institute

Romney McPhie (she/her) is a marine biologist, educator, artist, and keen ocean conservationist and collaborator. As Science Coordinator with the Tula Foundation’s Ocean Decade Collaborative Center for the Northeast Pacific and Hakai Institute, she works alongside a passionate team to support and facilitate co-designed and co-produced knowledge for solutions to ocean challenges in the Northeast Pacific region. An enthusiastic 'shark nerd', she completed her Masters in Marine Biology at Dalhousie University in collaboration with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Atlantic Shark Research Lab, focusing on three species of threatened skate ('flat sharks'!) on the Eastern Scotian Shelf. She has since worked as a shark biologist and Species at Risk Act (SARA) recovery planner with DFO here on the Pacific Coast, is a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group North America Group, and has trouble NOT sneaking sharks into every job she holds. She also draws whenever she can, lending her pen to science- and conservation- focused projects as often as her day jobs allow, and is a mom to a feisty, deep-sea loving 5 year-old.

Environmental Speaker Series

The Environmental Speaker Series is hosted by the College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

The Series is free and open to the public. Talks are held each Thursday at 4:30 pm in Academic Instructional Center West room 204 - AW-204. Talks will also be streamed via zoom. Register with the Alumni Association for the zoom link. Paid parking is available in lot C.

Learn more about the Environmental Speaker Series
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