Scientists have recently discovered an approximately 400-year-old Greenland shark, making it the oldest vertebrate animal ever recorded.
A report published by Science reveals that University of Copenhagen researchers used carbon dating techniques to test the nuclei in the sharks’ ocular lenses, a method that finally allowed them to determine the ages of these creatures — and made them realize that the Greenland shark lives far longer than even they had first thought.
In fact, while the report claims that “the oldest of the animals that they sampled had lived for nearly 400 years,” it also states that the researchers’ techniques, while state of the art, are still fallible. Thus, the oldest specimen they found was actually 392 years old, give or take around 120 years. Thus, if the specimen in question hit the higher end of that 120-year margin of error, we’re talking about a shark that’s over 500 years old.
But no matter whether it’s a three, four, or five in front of the two zeroes in this specimen’s age, the Greenland shark is now officially the longest-living vertebrate animal ever documented. Reports on the Greenland shark’s competition vary, but it’s safe to say that it’s easily beaten out the likes of the koi (226 years old), the bowhead whale (211), the rockfish (205), and, of course the Homo sapiens (122).
However, the oldest Greenland sharks, while record-setting for vertebrates, are no match at all for invertebrates like the coral and sponges known to live for many thousands of years, not to mention the tree specimens documented at several tens of thousands of years, and the host of evolutionarily simple creatures (including jellyfish, urchins, clams, and hydra) that are biologically immortal.
Just as scientists have long studied those animals with great interest, the University of Copenhagen team is hoping their findings will lead to new research of the Greenland shark, a relatively seldom studied creature, as well as conservation efforts.
Indeed, while we know that these apex predators swim the cold waters of the North Atlantic and that their enormous size (with peaks of more than 20 feet and 2,000 pounds) makes them among the very largest of all sharks, we don’t know much else.
Before this new report, we knew them to live to be about 200 years old. Now that the new findings have blown that estimate out of the water, it makes you wonder what else we don’t know.