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A basking shark spotted miles off the coast of Cape Cod last week captured wide attention after video was posted on TikTok and garnered tens of millions of views.

The student researcher who captured the footage, Alex Albrecht, said he is happy to see so much interest in the creature but stressed that the shark is nothing to be afraid of.

“It makes me sad to see the initial response was fear or people saying, ‘This is why I don’t go in the ocean’ and stuff like that, because this shark especially is harmless,” he said. “I think sharks have a bad rap as bloodthirsty murder machines.”


State shark expert Greg Skomal confirmed that this was a basking shark swimming in the waters, and while they may be jarring to see up close, they pose no threat to boaters or swimmers.

“Most people think of a Megalodon or something like that, but this is a very harmless shark and nothing unusual,” he said. “They’re planktonic — they feed on tiny plankton like whales do.”

Warning: This video post contains explicit language.


Sailed six weeks in the atlantic saw this big fucking shark

♬ original sound - Alex Albrecht

The video had more than 50 million views on TikTok as of Tuesday night, and while many commenters were quick to call this a harmless basking shark, others suspected, as Skomal anticipated, that this was a Megalodon, which are extinct.

Skomal said basking sharks are common in the waters off New England this time of year, and they tend to stir up concerns.

“This happened a few years ago, and to this day people still think they saw a giant white shark south of Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. That shark was also a basking shark.

Albrecht, 20, of Seattle, is a student at Claremont McKenna College just outside of Los Angeles. For the spring semester, he opted to participate in a program with the Sea Education Association studying marine biodiversity and conservation. Part of the program includes a six-week sailing trip from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Woods Hole, Mass., while conducting marine and oceanographic research.


On May 15, as Albrecht and his classmates on the SSV Corwith Cramer were sailing somewhere between 50 and 100 nautical miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Albrecht put on a harness and climbed the rigging to take some pictures of the beautiful day at sea.

When he got up there, about 70 feet above deck, he spotted a large shadow moving just beneath the surface and heading toward the ship.

Albrecht said he first thought it was a whale.

“And then I saw how its tail moved, and I shouted, ‘Shark! Shark!’” he said.

Albrecht said he was able to quickly identify it as a basking shark because of its size and triangular-shaped head.

“It didn’t cross my mind to take video right away because I was so in awe,” he said. “Once I saw it coming close to the bow, I thought this is a once in a lifetime thing to see and if I have my phone, I should record it.”

The video shows the shark swimming along the port side of the vessel as students crowd the railing along the boat’s edge for a glimpse of the shark.

Skomal estimated this basking shark is about 20 feet, which isn’t on the large side for these animals that sometimes grow to be more than 30 feet long. Nevertheless, he said he always expects an enthusiastic reaction when one is seen.


“They’re impressive animals,” he said. “They’re heavy and big, there’s a lot of mass to them. I like to think of them as whales trapped in the bodies of sharks.”

Albrecht said he posted the video on TikTok late Tuesday night last week and then went to bed.

“I thought it was a sweet video that my friends would like to see,” he said. “Then I checked in the morning and I did a cartoony double-take because it already had 5 million views when I woke up.”

Albrecht, who is also a surfer, said he’s had a love for the ocean and the creatures in it for his entire life, and he hopes people who see the video view the shark as something to protect.

“Maybe this leads to more conservation and being more in tune with our oceans going down the line,” he said.

Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed.

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.