Skip to main content

Validated age estimates for large white sharks of the northeastern Pacific Ocean: altered perceptions of vertebral growth shed light on complicated bomb Δ14C results


Age validation studies of large shark species using bomb radiocarbon (14C) dating have revealed that the growth of vertebrae can cease in adults. In a previous study of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) of the northeastern Pacific Ocean the latest growth material (leading edge of the corpus calcareum) was assigned a known date-of-formation assumed to coincide with the individual’s date of capture. This perspective prevented the assignment of older years of formation (a shift in age) to this material, leading to complicated results and no validated age estimates. A reanalysis of the bomb 14C data, in light of the recent findings for other species, has led to a validated lifespan estimate exceeding 30 years for white sharks of the northeastern Pacific Ocean.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  • Allen LG, Andrews AH (2012) Bomb radiocarbon dating and estimated longevity of Giant Sea Bass (Stereolepis gigas). Bull S Cal Acad Sci 111:1–14

    Google Scholar 

  • Andrews AH, Natanson LJ, Kerr LA, Burgess GH, Cailliet GM (2011) Bomb radiocarbon and tag-recapture dating of sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus). Fish Bull 109:454–465

    Google Scholar 

  • Andrews AH, Leaf RT, Rogers-Bennett L, Neuman M, Hawk H, Cailliet GM (2013) Bomb radiocarbon dating of the endangered white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni): investigations of age, growth and lifespan. Mar Freshwater Res 64:1029–1039

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Broecker WS, Peng T–H (1982) ‘Tracers in the sea’. Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Palisades, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Cailliet GM, Natanson LJ, Welden BA, Ebert DA (1985) Preliminary studies on the age and growth of the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, using vertebral bands. In ‘Biology of the white shark.’ (ed. Sibley G) Mem S Calif Acad Sci 9:49–59

  • Campana SE (2001) Accuracy, precision and quality control in age determination, including a review of the use and abuse of age validation methods. J Fish Biol 59:197–242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campana SE, Natanson LJ, Myklevoll S (2002) Bomb dating and age determination of large pelagic sharks. Canadian J Fish Aquat Sci 59:450–455

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Casey JG, Pratt HL Jr, Stillwell C (1985) Age and growth of the sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) from the western North Atlantic. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 42:963–975

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Druffel ERM (2002) Radiocarbon in corals: records of the carbon cycle, surface circulation and climate. Oceanography 15:122–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Druffel ERM, Williams PM, Robertson K, Griffin S, Jull AJT, Donahue D, Toolin L, Linick TW (1989) Radiocarbon in dissolved organic and inorganic carbon from the Central North Pacific. Radiocarbon 31:523–532

    Google Scholar 

  • Druffel ERM, Griffin S, Guilderson TP (2001) Changes of subtropical north Pacific radiocarbon and correlation with climate variability. Radiocarbon 43:15–25

    Google Scholar 

  • Francis MP, Campana S, Jones CM (2007) Age underestimation in New Zealand porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus): is there an upper limit to ages that can be determined from shark vertebrae? Mar Freshwater Res 58:10–23

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Grottoli AG, Eakin CM (2007) A review of modern coral δ18O and Δ14C proxy records. Earth-Sci Rev 81:67–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haltuch MA, Hamell OS, Piner KR, McDonald P, Kastelle CR, Field JC (2013) A California current bomb radiocarbon reference chronology and petrale sole age validation. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 70:22–31

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hamady LL, Natanson LJ, Skomal GB, Thorrold SR (2014) Vertebral bomb radiocarbon suggests extreme longevity in white sharks. PLoS One 9:e84006

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jorgensen SJ, Reeb CA, Chapple TK, Anderson S, Perle C, Van Sommeran SR, Fritz-Cope C, Brown AC, Klimley AP, Block BA (2010) Philopatry and migration of Pacific white sharks. Proc Biol Sci 277:679–688

    Article  PubMed Central  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kalish JM (2001) Use of the bomb radiocarbon chronometer to validate fish age. Final report FRDC project 93/109. Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra

    Google Scholar 

  • Kerr LA, Andrews AH, Cailliet GM, Brown TA, Coale KH (2006) Investigations of Δ14C, δ15N, and δ13C in vertebrae of white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) from the eastern Pacific Ocean. Environ Biol Fish 77:337–353

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kneebone J, Natanson LJ, Andrews AH, Howell WH (2008) Using bomb radiocarbon analyses to validate age and growth estimates for the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in the western North Atlantic. Mar Biol 154:423–434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kohler NE, Casey JG, Turner PA (1996) Length-length and length-weight relationships for 13 shark species from the Western North Atlantic. NOAA Tech. Mem. NMFS-NE-110

  • Natanson, LJ, Gervelis, BJ, Winton, MV, Hamady, LL, Gulak, SJB, Carlson JK (2013) Validated age and growth estimates for Carcharhinus obscurus in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, with pre- and post management growth comparisons. Env Biol Fish 97:881–896

  • Passerotti MS, Carlson JK, Piercy AN, Campana SE (2010) Age validation of great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), determined by bomb radiocarbon analysis. Fish Bull 108:346–351

    Google Scholar 

  • Passerotti MS, Andrews AH, Carlson JK, Wintner SP, Goldman KJ, Natanson LJ (2014) Maximum age and missing time in the vertebrae of sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus): validated lifespan from bomb radiocarbon dating in the western North Atlantic and southwestern Indian Oceans. Mar Freshwater Res 65:674–687

  • Rau GH, Mearns AJ, Young DR, Olson RJ, Schafer HA, Kaplan IR (1983) Animal 13C/12C correlates with trophic level in pelagic food webs. Ecology 64:1314–1318

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roark EB, Guilderson TP, Dunbar RB, Ingram BL (2006) Radiocarbon based ages and growth rates: Hawaiian deep sea corals. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 327:1–14

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Robinson SW (1981) Natural and man-made radiocarbon as a tracer for coastal upwelling process. In: Richards FA (ed) ‘Coastal upwelling. American Geophysical Union, Washington, pp 298–302

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Stuiver M, Polach HA (1977) Discussion: reporting of 14C data. Radiocarbon 19:355–363

    Google Scholar 

  • Tanaka S, Kitamura T, Mochizuki T, Kofuji K (2011) Age, growth and genetic status of the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) from Kashima-nada, Japan. Mar Freshwater Res 62:548–556

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


Thanks to L. Hamady and L. Natanson for pressing the potential issue of underestimated age for the sharks we reanalyzed in this paper. We thank Gregor Cailliet (Moss Landing Marine Labs), the Los Angeles County Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Sea World San Diego for specimen support. This paper was supported in part by the Pacific Shark Research Center and the National Sea Grant College Program of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under NOAA Grant #NA06RG0142, project number R/F-190, through the California Sea Grant College Program, and in part by the California State Resources Agency. Thank you to Edward DeMartini for his laser-like editorial and insight and to two anonymous reviewers for helpful and supportive comments. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of any of those organizations. This work was performed, in part, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract No. W-7405-Eng-48.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Allen H. Andrews.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Andrews, A.H., Kerr, L.A. Validated age estimates for large white sharks of the northeastern Pacific Ocean: altered perceptions of vertebral growth shed light on complicated bomb Δ14C results. Environ Biol Fish 98, 971–978 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Bomb radiocarbon dating
  • Longevity
  • Age and growth
  • Vertebrae
  • Validation
  • Carcharodon carcharias
  • Lamniformes
  • Elasmobranch