Marine biologists have made a groundbreaking discovery – the first-ever evidence that silky sharks can regenerate their dorsal fins after significant injury. Images captured by divers in October 2021 and October 2022 off the coast of the Maldives provide visual proof that a silky shark’s torn fin regrew to almost full size within a year.
Year-Long Study Reveals Rapid Fin Regrowth
The incredible fin regeneration was recorded near the Ocean Paradise Resort in the Maldives by marine biologist Benny Bixler and photographer Kristian Laine. They had noticed around 20 resident silky sharks visiting the area daily to be cleaned by wrasses.
In October 2021, one of the well-known sharks named Pinky returned after some time away with the top rear portion of her dorsal fin completely gone. The rare straight-line injury was likely caused by fishing gear entanglement or a boat propeller strike.
Bixler said: “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Given that the skin on a shark’s back is so thick, we never even considered that dorsal fins could regenerate if they got a chunk taken out of them as big as this.”
Remarkably though, when Pinky returned one year later in October 2022, her dorsal fin had regenerated significantly, restoring almost full length and correct curvature. Side-by-side images show the dramatic before-and-after over 12 months.
|Pinky returns with upper rear portion of dorsal fin completely gone due to straight-line injury
|Follow-up images reveal near-complete regrowth and restoration of dorsal fin
Laine explained: “The shape and size looks near perfect now. It’s extremely rare to see any marine predators with such a significant fin injury, let alone following them through recovery.”
Breakthrough Discovery In Shark Biology
This fin regeneration represents the first concrete evidence that sharks may have self-healing capabilities that exceed scientific expectations. Prevailing beliefs based on limited research were that sharks could only regrow portions of lost fins – not dramatic large-scale regeneration like this.
“It overturns the current literature that states sharks cannot regenerate entire sections of a limb or fin – only small portions,” said Bixler. “Now we have proof this resilience seems much more extensive than we realized, at least for some species. It’s a breakthrough discovery in shark biology.”
Researchers hypothesize the regrowth may have been aided by Pinky’s access to daily cleaning from wrasses at the Ocean Paradise site. This would have reduced infection risk and inflammation after her initial injury. Already mature when injured, Pinky’s age may also have been a factor in enabling such remarkable recovery.
Further study is urgently needed to uncover the biological mechanisms behind this feat. Finicky genetics, stem cell capabilities, tissue regrowth rates and other contributing factors require deeper investigation across shark species, age groups and environments.
Second Shark Also Regenerating Fin
Incredibly, Pinky was not the only injured silky shark to demonstrate Rapid fin regrowth at the Ocean Paradise site. A younger female named Stumpy has shown similar regeneration progress since her first appearance in December 2021.
Discovered with her entire dorsal fin cut off evenly at the base, Stumpy returned twice within her first month, already exhibiting small fin regrowth visible at the amputation site. One year later in December 2022, she swam by again showing significant dorsi fin restoration, though still smaller than Pinky’s recovery.
|Upper rear portion of dorsal fin gone
|Near-complete regeneration within 12 months
|Entire dorsal fin cut off evenly at base
|Significant restoration visible after 12 months
“ witnessing two injured sharks recover in this way at the same site is just incredible,” said Laine. “It suggests the conditions here like cleaning services and nutrition availability may actively help accelerate fin regrowth. ”
Bixler agrees more analysis is needed: “Whether it’s genetics, age, environment or behavior – multiple factors are likely at play. Comparative studies on other shark populations healing from similar injuries can help us isolate the major mechanisms so we understand why regeneration varies across cases.”
Next Steps: Protection and Further Study
For now, the priority is safeguarding Pinky, Stumpy and the other resident silky sharks that utilize the Ocean Paradise reef. Bixler, Laine and the resort team continue monitoring visiting sharks in detail to inform protective policies. They also installed a live SharkCam for research and public education on the community.
Scientists from around the world are also now coordinating with Bixler and Laine to study the rare regenerative capacities of these special sharks. Comparative research at different sites will investigate variations in recovery success across factors like species, gender and habitat using non-invasive photographic tracking of injuries over long time frames.
These breakthrough silky shark cases highlight how much is still unknown in marine science. While commercial fishing drives drastic shark population declines worldwide, evidence hidden in plain sight reveals self-healing abilities that could enable endangered species to recover if given the chance. Instead of persisting with destructive practices, humanity must pursue compassionate conservation to preserve ocean health and unlock nature’s secrets for the benefit of all.
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