Body temperature stability observed in the whale sharks

Published on
04. May 2020

Body temperature stability observed in the whale sharks, the world’s largest fish

Itsumi Nakamura, Rui Matsumoto, Katsufumi Sato


It is generally assumed that the body temperature of large animals is less likely to change due to their large body size, resulting in a high thermal inertia and a smaller surface area to volume ratio. The goal of this study was to investigate the stability of body temperature in large fish using data from field experiments. We measured the muscle temperatures of free-ranging whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the largest extant fish globally, and investigated their ectothermic physiology and the stability of their body temperatures. The measured muscle temperature of the whale sharks changed substantially more slowly than the water temperature fluctuations associated with vertical movements, and the whole-body heat-transfer coefficients (HTC) of whale sharks estimated using heat-budget models were lower than those of any other fish species measured to date. The heat-budget models also showed that internal heat production does not contribute to changes in muscle temperature. A comparative analysis showed that the HTC at cooling in various fish species including both ectothermic and endothermic species ranging from 10−4 to 103 kg was proportional to body mass−0.63. This allometry was present regardless of whether the fish were ectothermic or endothermic, and was an extension of the relationship observed in previous studies on small fish. Thus, large fish have the advantage of body temperature stability while moving in environments with large temperature variations. Our results suggest that the large body size of whale sharks aids in preventing a decrease in body temperature during deep excursions to more than 1000 m depths without high metabolic costs of producing heat.

Journal of Experimental Biology 2020 : jeb.210286 doi: 10.1242/jeb.210286


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