Fitting the pieces of the puzzle together
Living as an icy mystery, the Greenland shark is an elusive creature from the cold, dark depths of the sea that we still know very little about. But now, a recent University of Copenhagen study, reveals that this gigantic creature is actually the planet's longest-living vertebrate, capable of surviving to 400 years. That's twice as long as the record's previous holder—the Bowhead Whale—who was 211 years old.
Scientists first suspected this possibility after determining the shark's extremely sluggish growth rate of just one centimeter per year. However, even with this and the knowledge that the sharks could grow to more than 5.5 meters (18 feet) in length, none have conducted further study to determine their lifespan—until now.
Using radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of 28 of the animals, researchers found out that the oldest shark in the group was probably about 392 years old when it died, with 95 percent certainty of an age range between 272 and 512 years (accounting for radiocarbon dating's possible errors).
How'd they do this?
"We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were," lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen, said.
Female sharks couldn't even bear children until they reach 134 years old, Nielsen said.
According to DOGOnews, researchers believe that the secret behind the longevity of this elusive creature, is the frigid waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic where they reside.
Michael Oellermann, a cold-water physiologist at Loligo Systems in Viborg, Denmark, says its cold environment helps slow down the growth and biochemical activities of its body, extending their lifespan much like Captain America.