In the 1970’s the basking shark was a common shark in The North Sea. Fishermen were hunting the big shark in spring and summer. For many Norwegian fishermen this hunt was an important part of the income.
The basking shark was not used for food but this large shark had a lot of valuable liver. The oil extracted from the liver was highly priced as it was used in high-temperature-engines. In the 1970’s the fishermen also cut off the fins which was sold to Asia and used in shark-fin soup.
This fishery (or hunt) has now been banned for a couple of decades. The price of the liver (and oil) has dropped due to synthetic alternatives.
During the 1980’s it was clear that the basking shark was not as numerous as in the past. Overfishing, a drop in prices and the moral aspect about this catch led to a stop in this hunt. In Norwegian waters it is not allowed to hunt for basking shark, Greenland shark or porbeagle.
It is easy to judge what former generations did for a living and the hunt for basking shark may look cruel to most of those who see the film. Still the hunt for basking shark was one of many fisheries and the film shows a piece of cultural history. Here is another film from this fishery.
For several decades fishermen caught basking shark by using a harpoon gun. This fishery was common along most of the Norwegian coast and each vessel could catch several sharks each day. The fishery was grounded on the demand for the high quality shark-liver oil (also used for high temperature engines) and the high priced shark-fins.
The season started in spring and the fishery was depended on calm sea. In the 18th century this was a dangerous fishery as the fishermen used hand harpoons and small boats on the open sea. Larger vessels and the harpoon gun (as seen on the film) made the fishery more efficient and safer. The harpoon was shot through the basking shark and the shark was then forced to the surface. In order to kill the shark the fishermen used a rifle and aimed for its head.
The Norwegian basking shark fishery has been history for a couple of decades and the basking shark is preserved in Norwegian waters.
Sometimes strange things happens. In the 1950’s a Norwegian fishing vessel was hunting basking sharks off the coast. In those days they only used the shark liver. After removing the liver, the fishermen let the carcass go. The basking shark was harpooned and then forced to the surface where it was killed by a bullet in its head (a rifle). One day a vessel had caught a shark, and removed the liver. The carcass of the basking shark was floating freely near the surface.
Another fishing vessel came along. They spotted a shark fin and approached what seemed to be a swimming basking shark. The shark was then harpooned but the crew was a bit disappointed when they found out that they had caught a dead shark with no liver. That poor shark had been shot and harpooned twice.