This 400-year-old shark is the oldest vertebrate on Earth

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers report that they have identified the oldest vertebrate that has ever roamed the oceans.

The Greenland shark
© Capture d'écran / Julius Nielsen
The Greenland shark

A Greenland shark whose age has been estimated at around 400 years has just been identified. This species have roamed the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic for centuries.

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In 2016, a study published in the journal Science examined the extraordinary longevity of the Greenland shark, a species of shark that is still very mysterious today, and which lives on average more than 270 years, making it the vertebrate with the 'longest lifespan' on Earth, according to Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist at the University of Copenhagen and the lead author of this work.

Shark about 400 years old discovered

The Danish researcher in an interview with the BBC:

We expected to be dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone involved in this research was very surprised to learn that the sharks were as old as they were.

How did the researchers manage to estimate the life span of the animal, which has been the subject of much fantasy for decades? Julius Nielsen's team observed 28 Greenland sharks, most of which had died after being caught in fishing nets, using carbon-14 dating to determine their age.

One of them, a 5-metre-long female, is said to have reached an age of between 272 and 512 years, which the researchers finally 'rounded up' to about 400 years. This would make it quite simply the oldest vertebrate known on Earth.

Sexual maturity at 150 years

Nielsen explained:

According to the lower limit of this estimate, 272 years, even if this is the maximum age, it should still be considered the longest-lived vertebrate on Earth.

The previous record was held by a bowhead whale, estimated at 211 years.

Other discoveries made by the researchers in the course of this study are also worth noting. According to them, these sharks only grow by one centimetre per year, and reach sexual maturity at around 150 years of age, i.e. when they reach the size of 4 metres.

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