Scientists Discover 400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Likely Born Around 1620


Greenland sharks are now the longest-living vertebrates known on Earth, according to scientists.

Image credit: Dive Magazine

Researchers used radiocarbon dating of eye proteins to determine the ages of 28 Greenland sharks, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old. The former vertebrate record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old.

As lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen, put it: “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.”

Greenland sharks swim through the cold waters of the Arctic and the North Atlantic at such a sluggish pace that has earned them the nickname “sleeper sharks.” Image credit: Julius Nielsen

Greenland sharks are huge and can grow up to 5m in length. Yet, they grow at just 1cm a year. They can be found, swimming slowly, throughout the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic.

The team believes the animals only reach sexual maturity when they are 4m-long. And with this new, very lengthy age-range, it suggests this does not occur until the animals are about 150 years old.

A newly tagged Greenland shark returns to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in western Greenland. Image credit: Julius Nielsen

The research was made possible, in part, by the atmospheric thermonuclear weapons tests conducted during the 1960s, which released massive amounts of radiocarbon that were then absorbed by organisms in ocean ecosystems. Sharks that showed evidence of elevated radiocarbon in the nucleus of their eye tissue were therefore born after the so-called “bomb pulse,” and were younger than 50 years old, while sharks with lower radiocarbon levels were born prior to that, and were at least 50 years old or older, the study authors wrote.

The scientists then calculated an age range for the older sharks based on their size, and on prior data about Greenland sharks’ size at birth and growth rates in fish.

A Greenland shark near the ocean surface after its release from research vessel Sanna in northern Greenland. Image credit: Julius Nielsen

According to the results of the analysis – which has a probability rate of about 95 percent – the sharks were at least 272 years old, and could be as much as 512 years old (!) with 390 years as the most likely average life span, according to Nielsen.

But why do Greenland sharks live so long?

Their longevity is actually attributed to their very slow metabolism and the cold waters that they inhabit. They swim through the cold waters of the Arctic and the North Atlantic at such a sluggish pace that has earned them the nickname “sleeper sharks.” Seal parts have been found in their bellies, but the sharks move so slowly that experts have suggested that the seals must have been asleep or already dead when the sharks ate them.

The slower you go, the farther you will be.

Sources: 1, 2

102 COMMENTS

  1. I never knew there was anything on earth that could live that long!! I think the calculation methods probably do have a lot of confounding variables to consider but, nonetheless, it’s entirely feasible that an animal could live that long in that sort of environment. I wonder what else is down there…..♥️

  2. This article is a perfect example of why people who cannot read, comprehend what they read, nor understand science should ever be allowed to comment on any article about science. Ever.

  3. I found this article very interesting and informative. Would much rather read and learn about our own world rather than one I will never be able to visit.

  4. The most amazing part of this article is how awful people are to other people when the article had absolutely nothing to do with people in the first place. Learn to read an article without becoming personally offended by everything or thinking that somehow every article, including articles about wild animals, are somehow politically motivated to attack you.

  5. I don’t believe is true about this research because you can never tell me you know the age of a fish true is eye..

  6. I don’t understand what’s wrong with these humans because we are suppose to live on the land and not in the middle of the ocean. We all think that this entire planet belongs to us but it’s not. Imagine if someone broke Into your house and try’s to own everything like they built the place.
    So my point is please leave these creatures alone.
    Seriously what do we gain from researching these creatures and their behaviour, instead of that can’t we research something that really counts.
    Just imagine if dinosaurs were still living, how would you feel.

  7. really please really one look at its eye really a blue eyed shark and second did it loose its dentures or what?

    • What you are seeing isn’t really a blue eye, it’s a blind eye. If you look closely, you’ll see a stringy thing attached to the center of it. These are parasites that have uniquely evolved to live on the eye tissue of greenland sharks, the consequence of which results in the discoloration you see, and blindness.

  8. Lmao Trump gets brought into everything ppl r rediculous…life is what u make it y b miseravle anyways great article, very interesting

  9. Wow that is utterly amazing! What else lurks beneath the murky waters ? By the way , your book is great but scaring me lol. Not done yet.

  10. They stated the age dating method was based on the shark growing 1cm per year … how do they know the shark didn’t grow more quickly when it was younger, then its growth slowed as it aged? Just curious …

      • They actually did use the yearly growth rate to estimate the sharks age that are older than 50 years old because they didn’t have anything else to reference for example they referenced the sharks eyes with the nuclear bomb teats in the 60’s to determine the younger ones were 50 years old or less.

    • No carbon daring their eye was how they estimated the age and then estimated that their growth was that for comparing birth size to more mature sharks.

  11. I think this is amazing and so much to be learned from this study. Some of the comments and of course one must add something political, are ridiculous. Cant we jsut experience the report for what it is. Clearly the shark was released. Another picture shows a diver swimming with the sharks. Please let us enjoy the read without your personal need to espouse your views unrelated.

  12. Do you know the only thing more important than your life? ~Life Itself~ Without it you would never have had yours.

  13. You see…things could alwsy be worse…you could have been born a Greenland SharK…What a dreadful life!!

  14. They probably dissected a shark that was dead already. Because you are right, Scientists would not kill such a rare and old creature.

    • Inuit fisherman from Greenland catch the Sharks and feed them to the sled dogs, as the meat is not fit for human consumption. River Monsters had a good episode on Greenland sharks. Worth the watch.

      • Incorrect, it is considered a delicacy served after being buried for a year. The meat has a similar effect on dogs pre burying as it does humans & so they would not wish to jeopardise their dogs. They stuff them with birds & bury them & they are served for celebratory feasts. The Icelandic people do something similar & call it Hákarl. Other sleeper sharks also can be used in the same fashion.

  15. I was thinking the same thing, how do they know what was in their belly & what did they do to get to the conclusions since its testing the eyes, now they’ve made it public will they stay safe or an on slaughter will be on their way :/

    • Greenland sharks are eaten in Iceland and Norway. The meat must be carefully prepared or it will be poisonous.

      • I’m from Norway, and people here certainly do no such thing!!! In Iceland they eat other, more common sharks (dogfish) but not Greenland sharks. I don’t think they live anywhere close to Iceland either.

    • It’s like pressure testing. No needles. I’m sure they have come across dead ones, I’m sure people catch them eat them. But in the article it says they did the carbon date testing and released it back after tagging it. I think it’s really cool to tag them and be able to locate how far they travel, go back and check on them see how the climate change is affecting them etc. doing this type of testing especially on a species that lives this long will be interesting to know how much we are affecting aquatic wildlife. This was such a cool article and so cool to learn about a different animal. I wish we knew more about what lives in the depths of the sea it could tell us so much about our earth and what lived before us. This was such a treat!

  16. So is your headline serious? It sounds like satire: “Scientists Discover 400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Likely Born Around 1620”.

    About what year would you expect a 400-year-old shark to be born? Surely 400 years ago! 🙂

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