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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Just days after a 25-foot whale shark was spotted about a mile-and-a-half off the Palm Beach coastline, there is a new study out of South Florida that estimates whale sharks can live up to 130 years.

Whale Shark (Photo credit: George Schellenger)

Whale sharks are already the world’s largest shark species and scientists at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Guy Harvey Research Institute and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme have discovered not only can they live 130 years but males can grow as long as 61.7 feet on average. That is longer and bigger than previously believed and three times that of a Great White Shark.

As you can imagine, measuring a whale shark can be quite difficult.

Up to now, age and growth research was based on vertebrae from dead whale sharks, which appears to have growth rings, like trees do, to determine age.

Measuring a whale shark. (Photo Credit: Daniel Bruehlmann)

The new research on whale shark aging and growth was conducted in the Republic of Maldives, as scientists took repeated noninvasive underwater measurements of live sharks over the course of a decade.

“Growth and reproduction of whale sharks, which are endangered in many places, are poorly understood,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU’s GHRI. “When you couple this lack of knowledge with the fact that whale shark products such as fins, meat and oil are highly valuable – they are harvested in many countries – one can quickly see the urgency in learning as much as possible in order to help save these majestic creatures.”

Primarily funded by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, NSU’s GHRI works on initiatives and studies to provide the necessary information to better understand, conserve, monitor and effectively manage shark populations.



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