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The retinal pigments of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and their role in visual foraging ecology

  • Jeffry I. Fasick (a1), Haya Algrain (a2), Katherine M. Serba (a1) and Phyllis R. Robinson (a2)


The spectral tuning properties of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) rod (rhodopsin or Rh1) and long-wavelength-sensitive (LWS) cone visual pigments were examined to determine whether these retinal pigments have adapted to the broadband light spectrum available for surface foraging or to the narrowband blue-shifted light spectrum available at depth. Recently published whale shark genomes have identified orthologous genes for both the whale shark Rh1 and LWS cone opsins suggesting a duplex retina. Here, the whale shark Rh1 and LWS cone opsin sequences were examined to identify amino acid residues critical for spectral tuning. Surprisingly, the predicted absorbance maximum (λmax) for both the whale shark Rh1 and LWS visual pigments is near 500 nm. Although Rh1 λmax values near 500 nm are typical of terrestrial vertebrates, as well as surface foraging fish, it is uncommon for a vertebrate LWS cone pigment to be so greatly blue-shifted. We propose that the spectral tuning properties of both the whale shark Rh1 and LWS cone pigments are most likely adaptations to the broadband light spectrum available at the surface. Whale shark melanopsin (Opn4) deactivation kinetics was examined to better understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of the pupillary light reflex. Results show that the deactivation rate of whale shark Opn4 is similar to the Opn4 deactivation rate from vertebrates possessing duplex retinae and is significantly faster than the Opn4 deactivation rate from an aquatic rod monochromat lacking functional cone photoreceptors. The rapid deactivation rate of whale shark Opn4 is consistent with a functional cone class and would provide the animal with an exponential increase in the number of photons required for photoreceptor signaling when transitioning from photopic to scotopic light conditions, as is the case when diving.


Corresponding author

*Address correspondence to: Jeffry I. Fasick, Email:


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The retinal pigments of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and their role in visual foraging ecology

  • Jeffry I. Fasick (a1), Haya Algrain (a2), Katherine M. Serba (a1) and Phyllis R. Robinson (a2)


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