Family spots rare, 25-foot shark in Puget Sound

EDMONDS, Wash. -- A local family boating about 100 yards off the Edmonds coastline spotted a rare, 25-foot Basking shark Saturday.

The shark, which was larger than their 19-foot boat, swam towards the boat and then alongside and underneath it, said Grace Coale, who snapped some photos of the unusual sight.

"My dad and I sort of saw it at the same time. Neither of us really knew what exactly what it was until it got closer," Coale said. "I've spent my entire life on the Sound in the area. We see a lot of Orcas and sea lions and porpoises, but nothing like this."

The Basking shark is the one of the largest fishes in the world, second only to the whale shark. They eat plankton and cruise the surface of the water, and are generally not considered dangerous, researchers said.

"They're not going to bite you or bite your boat, but if the sighting was accurate - about 25 feet long - if you're in a small boat, obviously that can be dangerous," said Kelly Andrews, a research biologist with NOAA Fisheries who studies primarily sixgill sharks and spiny dogfish.

Northwest waters were once home to many more Basking sharks, but the species was overfished when it was considered a nuisance to salmon fishermen decades ago, he said.

"They obviously are rare in Puget Souund now," Andrews added. "At different times - I believe it was the 40's and 50's and into the 70's - mostly in Canadian waters - the basking sharks would get entangled in the salmon nets and so they were this nuisance species to the fishermen."

Coale, who wants to study marine biology, said her family wasn't frightened by the sight of the shark. Her grandfather remembers seeing one near the San Juan Islands in the 1940's or 50's. She hopes the most recent sighting - and her photos - help in conservation efforts in the area.

"It was extremely rare and exciting and not something I'm sure I'll see again," she added. "It came so close. It easily could've touched our boat."