Researchers discovered how to calculate the whale sharks’ age. The giant creatures are known as filter feeders as they swim great distances to find enough plankton. They are also the result of the radioactive fallout produced by the Cold War-era atomic bomb trial.
By analyzing the levels of carbon-14, a commonly occurring radioactive element, the researchers discovered something quite intriguing. The shark’s cartilaginous vertebrae are made annually, similar to a tree’s rings. Such a thing helped researchers conducting their experiment and finally determining a whale shark’s age.
Whale Sharks’ Age Determined
Researchers realized a comparison of carbon-14 levels in the whale shark’s cartilaginous vertebrae. They used the remains of long-dead whale sharks. Joyce Ong, a marine ecologist from the Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the lead author of the research, explained how significant the carbon-14 levels are.
She stated: “These elevated levels of carbon-14 first saturated the atmosphere, then oceans and moved through food webs into animals, producing elevated levels in structures such as the vertebrae of whale sharks.”
The whale shark’s age can now be calculated after its death. The distinct rings present inside the creatures’ cartilaginous vertebrae equals one year. The oldest whale shark examined had lived 50 years. It had a size of 10 meters in length, and it could have reached almost double this dimension, to approximately 18 meters. Researchers were a little bit disappointed as they expected that the marine giants to be at least 100 years old.
The study also details how these endangered marine animals have a very slow growth rate. The knowledge of growth rate is significant because it shows how resistant are the whale sharks to dangers such as fishing. Fast-growing species, for example, possess fast rates of replacement. The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.