It seems as if the Greenland shark is the longest living vertebrae on the planet. You will find them in the North Atlantic, and at 21 feet long, they sometimes grow to be as large as a great white shark. Although they are one of the largest carnivorous fish, their growth rate is only about an inch or so per year.
Considering the fact that they are so large but grow so slowly, it shows just how long they may live. When researchers were looking into data collected from the eyes of 28 Greenland sharks, they found something they weren’t expecting.
According to Julius Nielsen from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, they only thought the shark would be “very old.” In that 2016 interview with NPR, he said: “But we did not know in advance. And it was, of course, a very big surprise to learn that it was actually the oldest vertebrate animal.”
Science magazine reports:
“[R]esearchers correlated radiocarbon dates with shark length to calculate the age of their sharks. The oldest was 392 plus or minus 120 years […]. That makes Greenland sharks the longest lived vertebrates on record by a huge margin; the next oldest is the bowhead whale, at 211 years old. And given the size of most pregnant females – close to 4 meters – they are at least 150 years old before they have young, the group estimates.”
It might be difficult to imagine being 150 years old before your first child is born. For humans, who only live a very short amount of time, that span of time is hard to consider.
Greenland sharks are somewhat of a mystery. Although they share the planet with humans, we know very little about even some of the basics, such as how many exist or how they give birth.
Some researchers from the University of Exeter thought that they may mate in “hidden” Arctic fjords. No one has seen one hunting, although they have been caught and found with fish, seals, and polar bears in their stomachs.
Scientists are looking at the genome of the creature to see why they have such long lifespans. One of the things they are trying to isolate is the longevity gene. 100 sharks, including some born in the 1750s, were used to gather DNA information. Discovering such a gene would explain why some vertebrae have limited lifespans, including humans.
In addition to living a long life, they also carry a lot about Earth’s history. We can learn much about the waters in the world before the Industrial Revolution came around. We also get a glimpse into the past prior to large-scale commercial fishing or pollution was as prevalent.
The following video shows us more about encountering a Greenland shark:
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