Sharks are some of the oldest animals on the planet. They first hit the scene around 420 million years ago, and they’ve actually changed very little in that time. Up until recently, we didn’t really know how long sharks lived, but scientists were finally able to determine that a shark can live up to 400 years. One shark cruising around the North Atlantic has recently shattered that theory and is now believed to be the oldest vertebrate on the planet.
Scientists recently studied an 18-foot long Greenland shark and they determined that it is 512 years old, making it the oldest known vertebrate in the world. While the actual age may have surprised some in the science community, the species really didn’t. Greenland sharks are the longest-living vertebrates in the world. Still, the marine biologists that were lucky enough to study the shark were pretty thrilled to be working with an animal that was likely born in the early 1500s.
The scientists used a couple of methods to actually determine the shark’s age. First off, they analyzed the animal’s eye, specifically the lens and cornea, and then applied a mathematical model to determine the age of the tissue. They also used a recently developed formula that links a shark’s size to its age. Greenland sharks have been notoriously difficult to study, but it was recently determined that they grow at a rate of approximately 1 centimeter per year. Shark experts are thrilled to have this new knowledge regarding Greenland sharks, as it’s an Apex predator among arctic waters and very little was known about it.
While the Greenland shark’s size and shape are similar to that of a Great White, the species is more of a scavenger and has never really been observed actively stalking and attacking food. While, like most sharks, the Greenland primarily eats fish, other animals have been found in their stomachs, including polar bears, moose and deer.
Greenland sharks are among the more mysterious species, so a discovery like this is a major breakthrough for marine science. Who knows what discoveries we’ll make in the future?