Ocean giant gets a health check: Combination blood, tissue test reveals whale shark diets

ScienceDaily | 1/16/2019 | Staff
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Whale sharks are filter-feeding, soft-bodied fish that travel tropical oceans in search of their microscopic food. They grow 12 meters (39 feet) long and weigh 21 metric tons (46,297 pounds), about as long as a public city bus and as heavy as three African elephants. Despite their conspicuous size, many details of whale sharks' lives in the open ocean remain a mystery, even 183 years after they were first discovered.

The research team led by Alex Wyatt, a project researcher at the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, carefully monitored the growth, diet, and health of three whale sharks living in an aquarium and two whale sharks living in ocean net cages.

Sharks - Organisms - Tourists - Scientists - Sheer

"Whale sharks are one of the most exciting organisms to encounter for tourists and scientists alike, not just due to their sheer size, but also their grace and beauty. It is a privilege to unveil some of the mystery surrounding their lives," said Wyatt.

Traditionally, researchers track whale shark feeding by taking samples of different body tissues and analyzing the different forms, or isotopes, of carbon and nitrogen inside the tissues. Researchers realized that they could interpret tissue isotope levels correctly only if they knew each whale shark's history of growth and diet.

Growth - Diet - Sharks - Time - Wyatt

Tracking the growth and diet of wild whale sharks over time is impractical, so Wyatt used a blood test to complement tissue isotope analyses. Researchers take about 10 milliliters (2 teaspoons) of blood from one of the whale shark's pectoral fins. Scientists can analyze blood samples immediately on board a research ship, but tissue isotope analysis requires specialized laboratory equipment.

"Similar to blood tests performed when you visit the doctor, we are able to assess the health...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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