Whale Sharks Show Remarkable Capacity to Recover from Injuries

A new study has, for the first time, explored the rate at which the world's largest fish, the endangered whale shark, can recover from its injuries. The findings reveal that lacerations and abrasions, increasingly caused through collisions with boats, can heal in a matter of weeks and researchers found evidence of partially removed dorsal fins re-growing. This work, published online on February 4, 2021 in Conservation Physiology, comes at a critical time for these large sharks, that can reach lengths of up to 18 meters (~59 feet). The open-access article is titled “Wound-Healing Capabilities of Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) and Implications for Conservation Management” (https://academic.oup.com/conphys/article/9/1/coaa120/6102284). Other recent studies have shown that, as their popularity within the wildlife tourism sector increases, so do interactions with humans and boat traffic. As a result, these sharks face an additional source of injury on top of natural threats, and some of these ocean giants exhibit scars caused by boat collisions. Until now, very little was known about the impact from such injuries and how they can recover. "These baseline findings provide us with a preliminary understanding of wound healing in this species" says lead author Freya Womersley, a PhD student with University of Southampton based at the Marine Biological Association, UK. "We wanted to determine if there was a way of quantifying what many researchers were anecdotally witnessing in the field, and so we came up with a technique of monitoring and analyzing injuries over time.”
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