Greenland Sharks May Live For 400 Years, Setting New Record For Vertebrate Longevity

Dustin Wicksell

A new study has concluded that the Greenland shark could be the world's longest living vertebrate animal, with a lifespan that routinely stretches across multiple centuries.

Making its home in the coldest, deepest reaches of the northern Atlantic, the Greenland shark is routinely difficult to study, as National Geographic points out. The animals are elusive by nature, and live in remote waters that make them hard to track, leaving them something of a mystery to science. Despite this fact, research has been conducted on the species, with some past findings suggesting that Greenland sharks are preternaturally long-lived.

— Forbes (@Forbes) August 13, 2016

"We had an expectation that they would be very long-lived animals, but I was surprised that they turned out to be as old as they did."

— Mysterious Universe (@mysteriousuniv) August 13, 2016

Their study encompassed 28 different Greenland sharks, ranging widely in both size and age. All of the sharks were female, and had died accidentally. This sample set, according to Nielsen, was key to the study's findings.

— Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) August 14, 2016

The team's findings show that Greenland sharks have a maximum lifespan of at least 272 years, with some individuals likely living far longer than that. Though there is some uncertainty involved, the team believes that the largest shark in the study was 392 years old at the time of its death. They are 95 percent certain that the shark was between 272 and 512 years old.

— Johann MOURIER (@SharkMourier) August 12, 2016

The team's findings are crucial, since the Greenland shark's full population and distribution remains unknown, as the Inquisitr has previously reported. If the animals turn out to be rare, the loss of even just a few Greenland sharks could be devastating. Their long lifespans could leave the species vulnerable, particularly if their habitat is disturbed by an increased geopolitical focus on the Arctic's natural resources. For this reason, among others, Nielsen notes that it is important for policymakers to do what they can to protect Greenland sharks.

[Photo by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | Public Domain]