400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Is Earth's Longest-Lived Vertebrate

Posted: Aug 12 2016, 4:13am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 12 2016, 4:53am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Earth's Longest-Lived Vertebrate is 400-Year-Old Greenland Shark
A Greenland shark slowly swimming away from the zodiac, returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland. The sharks were part of a tag-andrelease program in Norway and Greenland. Credit: Julius Nielsen
  • 400 Year Old Shark from Greenland is the Most Aged Vertebrate at Present

A 400 year old Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is the most aged vertebrate at present. These sharks often live to a ripe old age.

Greenland sharks top the list when it comes to being the longest living vertebrates. Radiocarbon dating was employed by researchers to determine the age of these sharks.

One of them, a female, was 400 years old. These sharks grow at the rate of 1 cm per year. Also they reach puberty at about 150 years of age. The research was published in a journal.

One of the researchers said that they had set their hopes high regarding these beasts. These were no doubt unusual animals. Yet they were not ready for the confounding fact that one shark was 400 years old.

In the past, a bowhead whale was the record-holder in this regard. It was 211 years old. Yet these longevity stakes have more than meets the eye. The ultimate prize goes to a 507 year old clam which was named Ming.

Greenland sharks are humongous animals. They reach lengths of 5 meters. These sharks swim slowly without making any commotion through the waters of the North Atlantic.

Due to their laid back manner and slow growth rate, mankind had always surmised that these sharks lived for a long time. Yet, until the present moment, determining the ages of these sharks was a difficult proposal.

For many fish, scientists examine the ear bones called otoliths for rings which resemble the rings of a tree. The greater their number, the greater the age of the animal.

Sharks are a bit different though. The Great White shark has a number of growth layer in its backbone that can be used to gauge its age.

The Greenland shark is a species that is set apart by its soft body that hardly has any bones in it. It was thought that determining its age was next to impossible. Until now that is.

Its eyes contain a protein that is metabolically inert. This protein, once it has been synthesized in the body of the shark, is not renewed. So the material can be isolated and radiocarbon dating can be performed on it.

28 sharks were analyzed by the researchers. The largest was a female and 5 meters in length. She was the oldest of the lot. These sharks are distributed throughout the North Atlantic. They were hunted extensively before WWII.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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