Living Greenland shark could be over half a millennium old
A creature, reminiscent of the Ice Age franchise, has been discovered in the North Atlantic, with an age of between 272 and 512 years. The magnificent 18-foot beast was discovered off the coast of Greenland in the icy North Atlantic ocean, by marine biologist Julius Nielsen and his team. The discovery happened a few months ago, with the latter having since completed his PhD thesis on Greenland sharks.
Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) frequent the stretch of Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Norway, with a proclivity for very deep water. Oh, and – trigger warning for the faint-hearted – polar bear dinners. The creatures can grow up to 24 feet in length and weigh up to 2,645 pounds, according to the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Earlier on this year, Professor Kim Praebel of the Arctic University of Norway uncovered that the sharks could have a life-span of several centuries long – 400 years to be exact.
That the aquatic predators could feasibly live for over half a millennium was unheard of, until Nielsen’s team’s recent finding. The researchers worked with a sample of 28 female Greenland sharks, using radiocarbon dating on the sharks’ eye tissue to glean their ages, with the stunning finding that one creature in particular could potentially be as old as 512. That’s not, it must be stressed, to say it necessarily is that age. Although if it is true, it gives rise to the pretty amusing fact that it was born in 1505. Mind. Blown.
A more conservative estimation is that the two biggest sharks in Nielsen’s sample are around 335 and 392 respectively. This still sounds like a mammoth lifetime, as Live Science points out, though the Greenland shark’s got nothing on hydra – these freshwater polyps whose capacity to regenerate their own cells might just render them able to live forever. Under the right conditions, that is.
Despite what Blue Planet II might have you believe, the depths of sea remain notoriously difficult to monitor, though Nielsen’s informative Instagram page charts a valiant and engaging effort to do so. The study is just the tip of the iceberg, with multitudes of Greenland sharks populating the depths of the Atlantic, whose amassed years could one day supersede these findings. Although a shark that’s potentially older than Shakespeare sounds pretty damn hard to beat.