We Know How Old Whale Sharks Are Because Of Nukes

Bombs, as a general rule, are bad. You don't talk about bombs at the airport, you don't order any "____ bomb" at a bar without immediate regret, and you definitely don't launch them in the proximity of whales, sharks, and/or whale sharks. Oh wait, we did that? Shoot.

Whale sharks, for those of you who haven't seen Finding Dory, are kind of the best of both worlds. They're super gentle but also super enormous, which makes swimming with them big business in places like Cancun.

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What happened was that back in the Cold War, over the span of a couple of decades, the United States and a few other countries tested some atomic bombs up in the air and over the oceans. You may remember this documentary on the subject:

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Because of those detonations, a bunch of isotopes called Carbon-14 were released into the atmosphere, and while Carbon-14 is already naturally in the environment, the extra burst of the stuff just got into everything. One of the uses of Carbon-14 is to help determine how old fossils and such are, using the half-life of the Carbon-14 and calculating it down.

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What scientists have recently discovered is that this huge spike of Carbon-14 got into the vertebrae of whale sharks. Those vertebrae actually have a ring build-up, sort of like trees do. However, scientists were never in any kind of full agreement on how long it takes those rings to form. Much like anyone's guess as to when we're going to get sports back, it could be six months, could be a year. Who's to say?

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Well, in this case, by locating where in the whale shark vertebrae that spike in Carbon-14 occurred, we can figure out with much better accuracy how long that whale shark has actually been alive. The trick is getting access to these vertebrae for study. Whale sharks are endangered, and it'd be kinda stupid to hunt one just to figure out how old it is. A couple of specimens that'd been dead for awhile were located in Pakistan and Taiwan, and scientists were able to use vertebrae from them to study. Based on the examination of their rings and using the Carbon-14 isotopes, they were able to posit that whale sharks can live to be 100 to 150 years old.

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100 years ago was World War I -- that would mean that there are whale sharks out there that lived through multiple major wars without atomic bombs. Makes you wonder what kinda shit Destiny the whale shark has seen.

I smile to hide the pain.Pixar"I smile to hide the pain."

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