Great Whites Can Live to 70, Longer Than Previously Believed

Jan 09, 2014 06:28 AM EST | Matt Mercuro

Researchers have proven that adult white whales can live up to 70 years or more, which is a lot longer than previously believed, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE.

To complete the study, researchers used radiocarbon dating to figure out age estimates for great whites in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

A shark's age was previously figured out by counting opaque and translucent band pairs that are emitted in their spinal column, according to the study. Scientists often had a hard to finding an accurate estimate for a shark's age by doing things this way however, according to a Northeast Fisheries Science Center press release.

 The study discussed the previous method, the new method, and how it could be used to determine estimates for how long white sharks will still be around for.

"Ageing sharks has traditionally relied on counting growth band pairs, like tree rings, in vertebrae with the assumption that band pairs are deposited annually and are related to age," said study co-author Lisa Natanson of NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in a statement, according to the company press release. "In many cases, this is true for part or all of a species' life, but at some point growth rates and age are not necessarily in sync."

The study was published Jan. 8 in PLOS One.

The first successful radiocarbon age-validation case studied vertebrae from four female an four male great white sharks cause between 1967 and 2010 in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

Before the new method, studies showed that sharks usually don't live longer than 23 years. Estimated bomb radiocarbon dating age for the oldest female shark was 40, and the oldest male studied was 73, according to the press release.

The other three males were 9, 14, and 44. The remaining females were 6, 21, and 32.

Natanson and her co-workers believe that sharks are either living longer and growing slower in the Northwest Atlantic than previously believed, compared to those found in the Indian or Pacific Oceans, or there longevity "has been underestimated" all this time.

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