Whale Sharks Could Live To 100 Years Old, Cold War Bomb Reveals

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 06 Apr 2020 13:42
Whale Sharks Could Live To 100 Years Old, Cold War Bomb RevealsPA Images

Scientists have found a new, more accurate way of determining a whale shark’s age, and it’s believed the large fish could live up to 100 years old.

Originally, researchers looked at the whale’s to vertebrae try determine its age, but a new way, using a Cold War bomb, gives more accurate findings.


While the method sounds quite sinister, scientists have starting analysing the amount of Carbon-14, an isotope used in the Cold War bombs, is in a whale shark’s ‘hard parts’, so no fish were hurt in the process.

Whale sharkPA Images

With them knowing how long it takes for the isotope to decay, it’s a more useful way of determining the white shark ages. Basically, the older the whale shark, the less Carbon-14 you’d find.

Following the study, they found that it could be possible for whale sharks to live up to a century old.


Dr Mark Meekan from the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Perth, author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science told BBC News how they came to the findings.

He said:

So any animal that was alive then incorporated that spike in Carbon-14 into their hard parts.

That means we’ve got a time marker within the vertebrae that means we can work out the periodicity at which those isotopes decay.

The Cold War took place between 1947 and 1991 and, while the tension was largely between the US and Russia (then known as the Soviet Union), it involved several other countries too.

Whale sharkPA Images

As tensions rose, different countries began conducted atomic bomb tests, which caused the release of Carbon-14 into the atmosphere. Over time, every living thing – including whale sharks – absorbed the extra parts of the isotope.

With whale sharks being endangered, it’s difficult for scientists to access the large fish to conduct tests on. However, two long-dead whale sharks were being stored in Taiwan and Pakistan whom the team were able to conduct the tests on.

It was from the study that Dr Meekan discovered that whale sharks could actually live up to 100 years – possibly even 150.


He added:

The absolute longevity of these animals could be very, very old, possibly as much as 100-150 years old.

This has huge implications for the species. It suggests that these things are probably intensely vulnerable to over-harvesting.

Whale sharkPA Images

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and can grow up to a whopping 32 feet and weigh 20.6 tonnes.


They were previously classed as ‘vulnerable’ but have since been updated to ‘endangered’ by the IUCN Red List.

While it may seem great that they live so long, it’s actually detrimental to the species as it makes them more susceptible to fishing, oceans warming due to climate change and ship strikes.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected] 

Most Read StoriesMost Read

Film and TV

Friends Star James Michael Tyler Dies Aged 59

Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Animals, endangered, fish


BBC News
  1. BBC News

    Whale sharks: Atomic tests solve age puzzle of world's largest fish