There’s a new contender for the oldest living vertebrate animal on Earth. 11 scientists from institutions around the world used radiocarbon dating to determine that a Greenland shark is roughly 400-years-old – blowing previous records out of the water.

According to the IUCN Red List, Greenland sharks are near threatened. They’re found in the Arctic Seas, and the scientists described them as an “iconic species.” Mystery shrouds the sharks; for example the IUCN assessment says we don’t know how often they can reproduce or the duration of their gestation period.

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Shark expert Steven Campana of the University of Iceland told The Guardian, “Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success. Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1,000 years.”

The scientists were able to approximate the staggering ages of these majestic predators with a unique method. They applied radiocarbon dating to protein in the eyes of 28 female Greenland sharks, caught during 2010 to 2013. The journal Science published the scientists’ research today.

The scientists considered atomic bomb testing, which raised carbon-14 levels in Earth’s atmosphere, when making their calculations. The 1950’s carbon-14 jump acts as a “time-stamp” to help the scientists determine the age of the sharks. Two of the sharks caught were likely born after the 1960’s, but all the other sharks appeared to have been born before that date. Based on the carbon dating and approximations of the growth of Greenland sharks, the scientists determined age ranges for the old sharks. The oldest, a shark over 16 feet long, is about 392 years old, but could be as young as 272 or as old as 512.

Via The Guardian

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