Outdoors just for kids: Great white sharks can get very, very old

2014-08-21T00:00:00Z Outdoors just for kids: Great white sharks can get very, very old The Billings Gazette

Great white sharks don’t use canes or wheelchairs, but recent research has shown that some of the fish are as old as your grandpa or grandma.

A shark’s exact age can be hard to figure out. Scientists look at growth rings, just like on trees, on the shark’s ear bones, vertebrae and their fins to try and guess their age.

A new way to guess a white shark’s age is to look for a marker left by when nuclear weapons were tested in the South Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s. That radioactive spot gives scientists a time stamp.

Using a radiocarbon test, scientists estimated the age of one large male at 73 years old. The oldest female aged through the same process was about 40 years old.

If the estimates are correct, white sharks may be among the longest lived cartilaginous fish — ones with no bones.

White sharks are found throughout the world’s oceans and are top predators, meaning they are like the grizzly bears or lions of the sea. They grow very slowly and aren’t as big as larger whale sharks or killer whales. The largest white sharks are about 20 feet long and weigh around 4,200 pounds.

Although smaller, they are ferocious predators with several rows of sharp teeth that are replaced when they fall out. So even when the fish get very old, they never need dentures.

— Brett French,

Gazette Outdoors editor

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Brett French

Outdoors editor for the Billings Gazette.

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