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Ancient Greenland Shark Born In The 1600s Still Alive Today

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

You might think this can’t be true, that an ancient shark born in the 1600s is still alive today, but it is! The Greenland shark is known for its incredible longevity, yet it hasn’t been able to be properly studied due to their deep remote habitat. But, let’s look at what we know! 

396 Years Old

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

The Greenland shark in the video is 396 years old and was born in 1627. This incredible discovery was possible due to radiocarbon dating of the shark’s eye lenses. 

What Is Radiocarbon Dating?

Image by Howard Morland, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It is a technique that analyzes Carbon 14 (C-14) levels in natural materials, such as the shark’s eye lenses. By then comparing this C-14 level to the estimated original levels, scientists can determine the age of organic materials and animals

Blindness 

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

When these sharks reach their very mature ages, they often go blind. Parasites latch onto their eyes and cause them to lose their sight. Luckily, the loss of their sight doesn’t affect their hunting ability. 

The Parasite

Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

The parasite that latches to their eyes is called the Ommatokoita elongata. These crustaceans damage the shark’s eyes until they are blinded. Fortunately for the sharks, they have incredible hearing and smell on which they already rely. 

Longevity Of Greenland Sharks

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

Greenland Sharks, scientifically known as Somniosus microcephalus, are the longest-living vertebrates on the planet. They live between 250 and 400 years long! 

Sexual Maturity 

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

Many sharks in our oceans have a slow maturity rate, but no one comes close to the Greenland shark in this field! Females only reach sexual maturity, meaning they can reproduce, at the age of 156. 

Reproduction 

greenland shark
In the last couple minutes of the last dive of the field season we found the largest fish we have ever encountered with the ROV, a Greenland Shark. Image by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When they are finally able to reproduce, female Greenland sharks are pregnant between 8 and 18 years long. It might seem like a super long time, but due to their slow maturity rate, it makes sense. Females then give birth to a litter of about 10 baby sharks. Due to their incredible longevity, it is possible for one female to birth 700 babies in her lifetime. 

Size

Image by Hemming1952, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

They are not only the longest-living but also the largest shark species in the world’s oceans! These sharks are between 8 and 23 feet long and weigh 880 to 3,100 pounds.

Appearance 

Image by NOAA Photo Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned before, there isn’t much footage or photos of these deep-sea sharks. But we do know that they have rounded snouts, thickset bodies, and small eyes, and their color ranges from pale grey to dark brown. 

Diet

Squid Attacks Surf Board
Image via pexels

These large apex predators feed primarily on fish, including other sharks, fish in their environment, seals, and squid. 

Hunting 

greenland shark teeth
Image by Jonathan Couch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These sharks prefer to hunt in the darkness of the deep ocean, which they know very well. It is said that due to their slow swimming speeds, they often hunt sleeping marine mammals that can’t swim away from them.

Habitat

artic waters
Image via depositphotos

They primarily inhabit the deep waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. It is found at depths ranging from 650 to 1970 feet but can go as deep as 7,000 feet! They thrive in cold, dark environments with temperatures between 30-50°F, often under ice-covered regions.

Greenland Shark Swimming Speed 

shark attacks on long island
Shark fin above water. Image via depositphotos

Because they live in an environment where it’s almost freezing, they are quite sluggish and slow-moving. Greenland sharks have the lowest swim speed (1.6 miles per hour) compared to other fish species their size! This could potentially explain their slow metabolism and longevity. 

Are Greenland Sharks Dangerous To Humans? 

Image via Julian Idrobo, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Greenland sharks are generally not dangerous to humans due to their deep-water habitat and slow-moving nature.

How Have Greenland Sharks Adapted To Their Cold Environment? 

greenland shark
Image by Uncredited, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

They have a extremely slow metabolism and high concentrations of trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) in their tissues to protect against the cold and high pressure of their habitat. 

Do They Have Any Predators? 

Orcas Stalk Blue Shark
Killer Whale, orcinus orca, Adult Breaching. Image via depositphotos.

Greenland sharks have almost no natural predators! This is most likely due to their size and deep-water habitat, but orcas and other larger sharks might prey on them if their paths cross. 

Conservation Status

Hallgrímur og stóri hákarlinn. Image by Super Bomba from bklyn / syd, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These large sharks are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. Due to their slow maturity and extreme longevity, these sharks are susceptible to overfishing. 

The Video

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific
YouTube video
The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

The Ancient Greenland Shark

Greenland shark
Screenshot from The Oldest Living Creature on Earth. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: Mr Scientific

It is incredible to know that this shark is alive today at 397 years old! Without this discovery many of us would never have heard of this shark, its incredible adaptations, and impressive longevity. 

Next Up In Animal News

Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus), realistic drawing, illustration for the encyclopedia of animals of the seas and oceans, isolated character on a white background. Image via depositphotos

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