AUG 21, 2016 8:25 AM PDT

Arctic Behemoth Verified to be at Least 400 Years Old

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Scientists recently bestowed the title of oldest living vertebrate to the Greenland shark, behemoths of the Arctic that can grow as large as 21 feet (around 5 meters) long. Just how old is the Greenland shark? Estimates put one female shark of this species at around 400 years!

To put this in perspective, this shark, born sometime in the 1600s, was alive even before the Pilgrims arrived at North America in 1620. It would also mean this shark was around 250 years old at the time of the American Civil War.

How did scientists date the shark's age, given that this species doesn't have much hard body parts with clear calcified layers? With a bit of a detective shrewdness, scientists at the University of Copenhagen found that the lenses of the shark had proteins that are metabolically inactive. "Which means after the proteins have been synthesised in the body, they are not renewed any more. So we can isolate the tissue that formed when the shark was a pup, and do radiocarbon dating," said Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist who led the study.

Being so old and big means that the shark grows very little each year. In fact, it grows only about one-third inch (1 cm) per year. Scientists also estimate that it reaches sexual maturity at around the 150 year mark - well beyond the entire lifespan of many other living vertebrates, including us!

Are there creatures that live longer? Perhaps. But until researchers find proof otherwise, the Greenland shark will bear the well-deserved title of oldest vertebrate. If you were wondering, the title of oldest invertebrate belongs to a 507-year-old clam named Ming.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JAN 23, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 23, 2020
Meet SF6, Our Frenemy in Fighting Climate Change
Sulfur hexafluoride, or SF6, is a non-flammable, non-toxic, synthetic gas. First discovered back in 1901, this odorless and colorless gas is commonly used...
JAN 23, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 23, 2020
Scientists Assess the Value of the Ocean's Twilight Zone
Fifteen years ago, an international cohort of scientists and policy experts introduced the idea of assessing ecosystems by the "services" they pr...
JAN 27, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 27, 2020
This Octopus Emerges From the Water in Search of Food
Most octopuses live and breathe underwater, just like the vast majority of other marine animals. But this octopus endemic to Australia has a special abilit...
FEB 12, 2020
Health & Medicine
FEB 12, 2020
Brain Patients are Advancing Research
Neuroscientists may face the challenge of not having enough material or high-quality material to study the condition they’re researching. Luckily&mda...
FEB 25, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 25, 2020
These Ants Do Whatever it Takes to Survive
Symbiotic relationships between different organisms in the wild are a wonderful thing. They exist in just about every ecosystem around the globe, including...
MAR 12, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAR 12, 2020
Major Ecosystems, like the Amazon, Can Disappear Within a Lifetime
A study published earlier this week in Nature Communications has revealed how quickly ecosystems will disappear once they reach their point of no return. R...
Loading Comments...