The whelk Buccinum undatum is commercially important in the North Atlantic. However, monitoring the ontogenetic age and growth of populations has been problematic for fisheries scientists owing to the lack of a robust age determination method. We confirmed the annual periodicity of growth rings present in calcified statoliths located in the foot of field-collected 50
and laboratory reared whelks using microscale measurements of trace element geochemistry. Using Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS), annual trace element profiles were quantified at 2 µm resolution in statoliths removed from whelks collected alive from three locations spanning the length of the UK; the Shetland Isles (North), the Menai Strait, North Wales (Mid) and Jersey (South). Clear cycles in the Mg/Ca ratio were apparent with minimum values corresponding with the visible dark statolith rings and comparatively higher ratios displayed in the first year of growth. Statoliths from one and two-year-old laboratory reared whelks of known age and life history contained one and two Mg/Ca cycles respectively and demonstrated that the statolith growth ring is formed during winter (February and March). Cycles of Na/Ca were found to be anti-correlated to Mg/Ca cycles, whilst ratios of Sr/Ca were inconsistent and showed an apparent ontogenetic increase, suggesting strong physiological control. Variability in elemental data will likely limit the usefulness of these structures as environmental recorders. The results obtained using SIMS for trace element analysis of statoliths confirms the robustness of the statolith rings in estimating whelk age. µXRD at 2µm spatial resolution demonstrated the statoliths were wholly aragonitic and thus trace element variation was not the result of possible differences in CaCO3 polymorph within the statolith. Changing XRD patterns along with SEM imaging also reveal an ‘hourglass’ microstructure within each statolith. The validation of the annual periodicity of statolith growth rings now provides a robust and novel age determination technique that will lead to improved management of B. undatum stocks.