No, 'Greenland shark' may not be as old as we were led to believe

The Greenland shark is the longest-living vertebrate in the world

The Internet is currently gaga over the discovery of a nearly 512-year-old shark. Headlines have been talking about a Greenland shark that’s possibly the ‘oldest living vertebrate’ in the world. But they are a little off the mark.

Just to be clear, the creature in question – the Greenland shark – is indeed several centuries old, according to a study that was published in the journal, Science, in August 2016. However, researchers haven’t been able to point out the shark’s exact age. Instead, they have a predictive range for the shark’s age.

So how old is the shark?
Well, it’s no brainer that analysing the age and behaviour of deep-sea organisms is extremely difficult. So, the researchers used a technique called radiocarbon dating to analyse the eye tissue of 28 female Greenland sharks. The analysis gave them a range of the sharks’ ages.

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According to their study, the sharks were at least 272-year-old and their maximum age could go up to 512. Their study revealed that these sharks have an average lifespan of 390 years. Simply put, the oldest shark could be anywhere between 272 to 512 years old, which would still make them the oldest living vertebrate in the world.

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While the study was published last year, it came to light when the Danish marine biologist Julius Nielsen submitted his 142-pages long PhD thesis on Greenland sharks. He also shared the image of the ancient creature on Instagram. Take a peek:

In exactly 1 hr and 7 minutes a satellite tag will pop-off from this Greenland shark female, it will float to the surface and establish contact with an Argos satellite. It will then transmit information on position as well as occupied temperatures the past 3 months. By tomorrow morning I will hopefully have the data which just can make it into my PhD before ending in four weeks. All of this (except handing in PhD in four weeks) will however only happen IF 1) the shark is not under sea ice (which would inhibit satellite transmission), 2) the sea is not too rough where the shark is which could lead to that the tag cap can’t be exposed properly in the air or 3) that the shark has not been deeper than 2,000 m which would have crushed the tag and destroyd it…. it also requires that there is no annoying animal eating the tag before we get the data which happened to us on a previous deployment. FINGERS CROSSED#greenlandsharkproject Photo credit: Takuji Noda

A post shared by Julius Nielsen (@juniel85) on