SCIENTISTS from the University of Copenhagen have clocked a 400-year-old female Greenland shark as being the oldest living vertebrate.
Using radiocarbon dating, scientists were able to determine the ages of 28 of the bulky beasts, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that one feisty female had been nonchalantly gliding around the ocean for the last 400 years.
Compared to other aquatic species, sharks are somewhat enigmatic, in that their ages are notoriously difficult to calculate. However, the ingenious researchers involved in the project hit upon a clever technique of figuring out the sharks’ ages by analysing the tissue in their eyes.
The scientists were eventually able to ascertain that a large female shark from the group sample was somewhere between 272 and 512 years old. They averaged this out to determine that her age was probably somewhere around 400.
Researcher Julius Nielsen, who was the lead author of the published findings, noted: “Even with the lowest part of this uncertainty, 272 years, even if that is the maximum age, it should still be considered the longest living vertebrate.”
The previous record holder was a bowhead whale which was estimated to be around 211 years old. If invertebrates are brought into the equation, a 507-year-old clam named Ming takes the cake.
The team also discovered that the sharks grow at a rate of 1cm a year and that they are not sexually mature until they are around 150.
Greenland sharks are large docile sharks that float around aimlessly in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. They can be up to five metres long.
These gentle giants may still be recuperating from having their numbers decimated in the years leading up to World War II. In the past their livers were used for machine oil, and large amounts of the creatures were culled before a synthetic alternative was developed.