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their amputated fins could grow back

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Some animals, such as newts and salamanders, are known for their ability to regenerate damaged tissue. However, according to a study published in Conservation physiology, we could add a new species to the list: whale sharks.

Sharks more resistant than you think

Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world. Very affordable, they naturally attract a lot of attention from tourists and other marine life enthusiasts. These close encounters with boats are not without consequences for the animals which are sometimes victims of injuries or even mutilations. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Southampton looked at the healing power of these physical traumas.

To investigate, the team focused on photos populating two sites in the Indian Ocean taken by other researchers, tour operators and other citizen scientists. Since these fish have distinctive marks specific to each, scientists are able to monitor the recovery of several individuals over time.

At the end of this work, the researchers determined that these sharks could heal very serious injuries within a time frame.from several weeks to a few months“, Says lead author of the study, Freya Womersley. “This means that we now have a better understanding of the dynamics of injuries and their healing, which can be very important for conservation management.“.

Regeneration of the dorsal fin

As part of this work, the authors also noticed the regrowth of the partially amputated dorsal fin of one of these sharks. According to the team, this is the first time that such regeneration has been scientifically documented in this species. It is still important to note that this has only been observed in one individual.

Interestingly, it also emerged that the unique patterns lining the skin of these sharks persist after being damaged. In other words, new spots seem to form on those previously destroyed.

A whale shark with part of its caudal fin torn off. Credit: Marine Conservation Society Seychelles

While these results suggest that whale sharks may be more resistant to injury than previously thought, the team notes that these accidents could cause other long-term negative effects that cannot be seen simply through photographs. These could include changes in foraging behaviors or reduced fitness levels.

Additional studies will therefore be necessary to try to fully understand the effects of these encounters on whale sharks, which, as we recall, have experienced population declines around the world due to human activities.


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