The Greenland Shark Could be the Longest-Living Vertebrate in the World


The Greenland shark is a ludicrously late bloomer.

This lazy-looking, Arctic predator reaches sexual maturity when it’s about 150 years old. Though more than a century of prepubescence might sound bad, there’s a bright side for the sea creature. Once it hits adulthood, it still has another hundred years to live. Maybe even more.

The Greenland shark has a life expectancy of at least 272 years, according to a study published Thursday in Science. If its findings are correct, that makes it the longest-living vertebrate animal in the world, surpassing some sea turtles (about 100 years) tortoises (between 100 and 200 years), and bowhead whales (around 200 years).

But that number, 272, doesn’t tell the whole story of these underwater geezers.

Researchers estimated that two of the 28 Greenland sharks they observed were over three centuries old.

“The oldest shark that we’ve analyzed, it’s amazing,” said Julius Nielsen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and lead author on the study. In their paper they report that it could be 392 years old.

But even that number, 392, doesn’t complete the story. The oldest shark could actually be 120 years older, he said. Mr. Nielsen and his colleagues used radiocarbon dating and statistical methods to measure the sharks’ ages. The tools can only provide accurate age ranges for each specimen, not an exact age.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Nicholas St. Fleur