Scientists Discover 400-Year-Old Greenland Shark, Probably Born Around 1620


A few months ago, a group of scientists managed to find a 400-year-old Greenland shark that was born around 1620. According to scientists, Greenland sharks are now the longest lived animals in the world.

Radiocarbon dating of eye proteins has been used to calculate the age of 28 Greenland sharks, and at least one female is believed to be around 400 years old. The previous 211-year-old bowhead whale held the vertebrate record holder.

Greenland sharks swim through the cold waters of the Arctic and the North Atlantic at such a sluggish pace that has earned them the nickname “sleeper sharks.” Image credit: Julius Nielsen

“We had our expectations that we were dealing with a unique species,” said lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine scientist at the University of Copenhagen, “but I believe everyone performing this research was really startled to hear the sharks were as ancient as they were.”

Greenland sharks are large and can reach up to 5 meters in length. Also, they only grow 1cm every year. Also, they are found swimming slowly throughout the North Atlantic’s cold, deep waters.

The team believes the animals attain sexual maturity at a length of 4 meters. And, based on this new, extremely long age range, it appears that this does not occur until the animals are around 150 years old.

A newly tagged Greenland shark returns to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in western Greenland. Image credit: Julius Nielsen
Image credit: Dive Magazine

The discovery was made possible in part by atmospheric thermonuclear weapons tests conducted in the 1960s, which released massive quantities of radiocarbon that were subsequently absorbed by ocean ecosystems. The authors of the study determined that sharks with elevated radiocarbon levels in the nucleus of their eye tissue were born after the so-called “bomb pulse” and were younger than 50 years old. In contrast, sharks with lower radiocarbon levels were born before that and were at least 50 years old or older.

The scientists then calculated an age range for the older sharks based on their size and previous information regarding the birth size of Greenland sharks and fish growth rates.

The sharks were at least 272 years old and may be as old as 512 years old (!) according to the analysis results, with 390 years being the most likely average life span, according to Nielsen.

Their longevity is due to their extremely sluggish metabolism and the cold waters they inhabit. They move so slowly through the icy waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic that they have earned the moniker “sleeper sharks.” Seal parts have been discovered in their stomachs, but the sharks move so slowly that experts believe the seals were either asleep or already dead when consumed.

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