New Technology To Determine Health Status of Whale Sharks

First Posted: Nov 19, 2012 04:41 AM EST

New research carried out by scientists from Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia Aquarium helps determine the health status of whale sharks (Rhincodon Typus).

This study, led by Dr. Alistair Dove, Director of Research & Conservation at Georgia Aquarium and an adjunct professor at Georgia Tech, is of great importance to the veterinary science community because it documents the results of a rare opportunity to collect and analyze blood from whale sharks.

Dove found the reason for major differences between healthy and unhealthy sharks mainly existed due to the concentration of homarine in their in serum. Homarine is a useful biomarker of health status for the species.

"This research and its resulting findings are vitally important to ensuring Georgia Aquarium's and the scientific community's care, knowledge, and understanding of not only whale sharks, but similar species of sharks and rays," said Dr. Greg Bossart, senior vice president of Animal Health, Research & Conservation and chief veterinary officer at Georgia Aquarium. "The publishing of this clinical research provides a greater opportunity for scientists and Zoological professionals to understand the Animals in our care and can be used to help wild populations, which puts us ahead of the curve in the integrated understanding of animal biology."

Prior to this, research and observations showed that traditional veterinary blood chemistry tests were not as useful with whale sharks as these tests were designed for mammals and comparatively less is known about sharks and ray blood.

By using metabolomics, the researchers were able to determine which chemical compounds were present in the shark blood.

"It is vitally important for us to continue to learn how to best support the whale sharks in our care," said Dove, who, along with the GA Tech team, spent three years developing the research. "We began the study by asking ourselves, 'What should we be looking for in whale shark serum?' and 'What compounds in serum might best indicate the health status of whale sharks?'"

Apart from this the team also noticed 2 different compounds that altered in concentration based on the health of the individual.

This study will help scientists and veterinarians to better understand the biology of whale sharks in their natural setting, and with homology, the biology of other sharks and ray species that may be similar.

"This sort of advanced research is only made possible through collaboration between aquarium scientists and experts at our partner universities," said Dr. Dove.

The paper, "Biomarkers of whale shark health: a metabolomic approach," is published in the journal PLOS ONE

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