Bomb radiocarbon dating calibrates beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) age estimates

TitleBomb radiocarbon dating calibrates beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) age estimates
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsStewart, REA, Campana, SE, Jones, CM, Stewart, BE
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology-Revue Canadienne De Zoologie
Date PublishedDec
Accession NumberWOS:000244533900016

The ages of many mammals are estimated by counting growth layers in tooth sections, yet validation of age estimation techniques using free-ranging mammals has been problematic. Contrary to age estimates for most other animals in which it is assumed that one bipartite growth increment forms annually, beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas (Pallas, 1776)) age estimates have been calculated assuming that two growth layer groups (GLGs) form each year. Here we report the age validation for belugas based on date-specific incorporation of atomic bomb radiocarbon into tooth GLGs. Radiocarbon assays of dentinal layers formed in belugas harvested between 1895 and 2001 indicated that radiocarbon from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons was incorporated into growing teeth and retained for the remaining life of the animal. Comparison of age determined by bomb radiocarbon with age determined by GLG counts indicated that GLGs form annually, not semiannually, and provide an accurate indicator of age for belugas up to at least 60 years old. Radiocarbon signatures of belugas were temporally and metabolically stable and were apparently derived more from the radiocarbon content of their prey than from water. Our understanding of many facets of beluga population dynamics is altered by the finding that this species lives twice as long as previously thought.