Scientists certain didn’t see this coming! this is what this brand-new discovery means—and what it doesn’t mean.

You are watching: Do whale sharks have teeth on their eyes


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Inaccurate articles abound around the recent exploration that whale sharks have actually dermal denticles on their eyeballs. No, that does not typical their eyes space covered in teeth. Here"s what the revelation in reality means.


Feast your eyes on two amazing new scientific facts about the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark. In a recently published paper, an global team of eagle-eyed researchers reported some brand-new and astonishing findings around one that the world’s many studied shark species. First, they deserve to retract their eyes exceptionally far into the eye socket, pulling into their skull almost fifty percent the diameter the the eye! that’s pretty weird, but lots of animals (though no other sharks) have the right to do something choose that.

The second discovery, which has gotten tons of media coverage and also led to part eye-popping misunderstandings, is that whale shark eyeballs room covered in countless toothlike scales dubbed dermal denticles. Despite denticles can be discovered on the nictitating membranes (eyelidlike structures) that some other sharks, this is the very first time the they’ve ever before been explained directly on an animal’s eyeball!

“I to be surprised to discover that there are still undescribed exterior features in one of the best-known sharks,” Dr. Taketeru Tomita, the report’s command author and also a researcher at Okinawa’s Churashima research study center, tells me. Come reach your findings, Tomita’s team it was observed captive whale sharks in two aquariums and examined a specimen native a whale shark that had actually died. “I was lucky; this discovery was fully unexpected!”


Why would an animal have attributes like this? probably to safeguard it from damage, Tomita says. “These highly safeguarded features support the current hypothesis the vision is extremely essential for whale sharks,” the says, a how amazing claim about a species that has been thought not to specifically rely ~ above its sense of sight. The record notes the the denticles ~ above whale shark eye are different in shape and structure indigenous those extending whale shark skin, and also the report says that their function is similar to denticles that defend from abrasion-type injuries in various other species.

“We typically think the whale sharks as being driven more by the feeling of smell 보다 the feeling of sight,” Dr. Alistair Dove, a whale shark skilled at the Georgia Aquarium and also a co-author top top this study, tells me, mentioning that filter feeders need to find big aggregations of tiny prey yet don’t need to chase them. “Clearly lock have really sophisticated sensory systems!”

So this is a neat new discovery, yet regular Science avoid readers recognize that this columns target not just to share exciting information yet to exactly misconceptions, therefore let’s take it a bird’s-eye check out here. The largest difficulty here has to do v a common misunderstanding about what specifically a dermal denticle is—they room toothlike, however they room absolutely not the exact same thing together actual teeth, says Dr. Lisa Whitenack, a professor that biology and also geology at Allegheny College and an professional on shark teeth biomechanics.


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“There’s a lot of of information out there that web links ‘teeth’ and also ‘dermal denticles,’ yet that doesn’t make them the very same thing,” she tells me. “Shark scale (also called placoid scale or dermal denticles) and also shark teeth room very similar when you break them down into what they"re do of. Shark teeth have an outer covering the enameloid, and under that room various varieties of dentine. Sometimes there"s also a pulp cavity, however that depends on the form of shark that is. This is your simple vertebrate tooth makeup—some type of enamel or enameloid ~ above the outside, some kind of dentine under that. Shark scales also have an outer layer that enameloid and dentine under that. Some even have a pulp cavity. However, the histology and advancement of shark teeth and also shark scales are not the same—there are differences in gene expression, and they might regenerate differently.” She note that images that display dermal denticles spring toothlike are just accurate native one angle—when friend look in ~ denticles favor this castle look like teeth, but they don’t when you look at them choose this.


Now the you recognize denticles space not yes, really teeth, check out some headlines discussing this brand-new discovery and also feel Whitenack’s pain. "Whale sharks have actually eyeballs extended in small teeth," or "Teeth on shark eyeballs protects the tenderness giants that the ocean," or "whale sharks have actually literal this on your eyeballs together if sharks didn’t have sufficient teeth." It’s sufficient to do you cry your eyes out.

This new discovery reflects that there’s still much more to learn even from several of the most famous, finest studied sharks in the ocean, a species that has long remained in the windy eye. It suggests that if whale sharks are typically thought of together smell-oriented fairly than vision-oriented predators, their biology and also ecology is more complicated (and interesting) 보다 that, and also I encourage friend to store an eye out for even much more amazing explorations in the comes years. However if you, like countless divers, desire to learn about sharks, make sure that you completely understand what a dermal denticle is and isn’t—otherwise you might find the someone has pulled the wool over her eyes!

About Dr. David Shiffman

Dr. David Shiffman is a maritime conservation biologist specializing in the ecology and conservation that sharks. One award-winning public science educator, David has spoken to countless people roughly the world around marine biology and also conservation and has bylines through the Washington Post, scientific American, brand-new Scientist, Gizmodo and also more. Follow him top top Twitter, Facebook and also Instagram, where he’s constantly happy come answer any questions about sharks.

About Science avoid with Dr. David Shiffman

Before you surface ar from a deep scuba dive, you make a safety and security stop. Prior to you take a deep dive into the facility world of s conservation, ns encourage girlfriend to make a science protect against by reading this column. The worldwide environmental challenges we challenge can seem overwhelming, and also concerned citizens, especially human being like scuba divers who love security time in the ocean, want to assist do their part to fix these problems.


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However, with lots of conflicting, misleading or simply plain wrong information out there about environmental problems and how girlfriend can aid solve them, it can be difficult to know how to help. In some cases, well-intentioned however misinformed activists not only fail to aid solve a problem, however can in reality make the difficulty worse, or harder come solve! placed simply, if we’re walk to resolve the massive problems facing the ocean, the details matter, and those details deserve to be confusing! In this monthly column, my score is come teach girlfriend the true clinical facts behind some of the many pressing threats facing the ocean and also the remedies experts believe will help solve them. I will also try to dispel common misconceptions around these threats and their solutions.

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The views expressed in this post are those the David Shiffman, and not necessarily the views of Sport Diver or Scuba Diving magazines.