400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Now Oldest Vertebrate on Earth


This undated photo shows a Greenland shark slowly swimming away from a boat, returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland. (JULIUS NIELSEN/AP)

This article originally appeared online at the New York Daily News.

A mouth full of dentures is all that’s left in this shark’s bite.

When it was a pup, Galileo had just seen the moons of Jupiter through a telescope, Shakespeare had taken his last breath and it would be another century until Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod.

Using radiocarbon dating, scientists from the University of Copenhagen have estimated that Greenland sharks can live to be over 400 years old, according to new research published in the journal Science. This makes the slow-swimming beasts the longest-living vertebrates on the globe, blowing the previous record-holder — a 211-year-old bowhead whale — out of the water.

“We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were,” lead author and marine biologist Julius Nielsen said.

An “iconic” species of the Arctic Seas, the massive creatures are blind because of parasites crowding their eyes, CNN reported. But the species’ centuries-old secret was hidden there: By analyzing the ages of proteins built up in the sharks’ eye lenses, researchers were able to establish that 28 of the mammoth fish caught from 2010 to 2013 for scientific analysis could be anywhere between 272 or 512 years old — with one particularly large female they analyzed likely around 392, according to the Guardian.

And, because they’re able to live for so long, they don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re about 150, the team said. This is cause for concern to conservationists, the BBC reported. Greenland sharks were once killed in massive numbers for their livers before a synthetic machine oil alternative was found, Nielsen said. The species may still be recovering today from this over-fishing, which occurred before WWII.

“When you evaluate the size distribution all over the North Atlantic, it is quite rare that you see sexually mature females, and quite rare that you find newborn pups or juveniles,” Nielsen said. For now, there are lots of “teenagers” roaming the seas — but they won’t be able to reproduce until sometime in the next century.

Still, when it comes to longevity, even the oldest Greenland shark has nothing on Monorhaphis chuni — a study in the journal Aging Research Reviews estimated the sea sponge to be around 11,000 years old.

Read the original story at the New York Daily News.


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