A pregnant whale shark caught off the coast of Taiwan in 1995 was found to be carrying 304 embryos representing different development stages—some were still encased in eggs, and some were near-term.
Dr. Jennifer Schmidt of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Dr. Shoou-Jeng Joung of the National Taiwan Ocean University, who spent years developing DNA genetic markers for whale sharks, saved and determined the paternity of 29 of the embryos.
“These differently aged embryos—itself unusual across animal species—had the same father,” Schmidt said in a press release. “We have to be very cautious in drawing conclusions from a single litter, but the data suggest female whale sharks store sperm after a single mating event, and subsequently fertilize their own eggs as they are produced.”
It is previously known that most shark broods are sired by more than one male, so whale sharks may be an exception.
The study was published online in Endangered Species Research on Aug. 4.
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