Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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A whale shark’s superpower: Healing

Da-dum, da-dum…that’s right! Shark week is back!! It starts tonight on Discovery channel. Grab some popcorn, it’s going to be a wild ride!

Photo by Abe Khao Lak – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To kick off the week in our own way, I found this interesting study that examined wound healing in whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. These animals often exhibit scars resulting from collisions with boats and new research shows they have impressive wound healing capabilities.

In the new study published in Conservation Physiology, researchers from the University of Southampton examined wound healing in these endangered animals by monitoring and analyzing injuries the animals sustained in the wild over time using photographs taken by citizen scientists. They were able to identify specific individuals by their unique pattern of spots. Remarkably, the animals were observed to have healed from serious injuries in just weeks or months and their unique spot patterns began to reappear on the regions that had healed. In addition, the researchers observed re-growth of a dorsal fin that was partially amputated in an accident.

While the animals appear to recover well from physical injuries, unseen effects of interactions with humans such as stress, fitness, and behaviors that could impact their physiology and reproductive success are not known. Considering their status as an endangered species, this study and data on the invisible impact of humans are very important in conservation efforts.


F Womersley, J Hancock, CT Perry, D Rowat. Wound-healing capabilities of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and implications for conservation management. Conservation Physiology. 9(1): 2021.

Categories: Environment, Extreme Animals, Illnesses and Injuries, Nature's Solutions, Ocean Life, Sharks

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