Greenland sharks are known for their longevity, living for hundreds of years. Picture: @JUNIEL85
Greenland sharks are known for their longevity, living for hundreds of years. Picture: @JUNIEL85

FOUND: ‘Ancient’ shark is world’s oldest living vertebrate

Scientists believe they may have discovered the world's oldest living vertebrate.

A shark believed to be the oldest living vertebrate has been discovered - and it could be older than Shakespeare.

The massive Greenland shark was found in the North Atlantic Ocean by scientists who estimated it is up to 512 years old.

Greenland sharks, which only grow 1cm a year, have been known to live for hundreds of years.

The scientists used the shark's size to suggest its year of birth as early as 1505.

This was the year the future British King Henry VIII ended his engagement to Catherine of Aragon.

Experts used the length - a staggering 5.5 metres - and radiocarbon dating to determine its age as somewhere between 272 and 512 years old, according to a study in journal Science.

It was the oldest of a group of 28 Greenland sharks analysed for the study.

The shark would have been alive during major world events like the founding of the United States, the Napoleonic Wars and the sinking of the Titanic.

An ‘ancient’ Greenland shark is caught by fishermen. Picture: @JUNIEL85
An ‘ancient’ Greenland shark is caught by fishermen. Picture: @JUNIEL85

Greenland sharks mostly eat fish but they have never been observed hunting. Surprisingly, they have been found to have remains of reindeer and even horses in their stomachs.

Their flesh is considered a delicacy in Iceland, but the meat is toxic if not correctly treated.

A separate study of the ancient shark's bones and tissues by the Arctic University of Norway may also provide clues about the effects of climate change and pollution over a long time span.

Already the researchers have mapped out all the shark's mitochondrial DNA - genetic material held in tiny battery-like bodies in cells that supply energy.

The 5.5 metre Greenland shark was estimated to be up to 512 years old. Picture: @JUNIEL85
The 5.5 metre Greenland shark was estimated to be up to 512 years old. Picture: @JUNIEL85

Now they are working on DNA from the cell nucleus, which contains the bulk of the animal's genes.

The "long life" genes could shed light on why most vertebrates have such a limited life span and what determines life expectancy in different species, including humans.

Professor Kim Praebel, who is leading the research, said the sharks were "living time capsules" that could help shed light on human impact on the oceans.

Many were so old they predated the industrial revolution and the introduction of large-scale commercial fishing.

"The longest living vertebrate species on the planet has formed several populations in the Atlantic Ocean," said Prof Praebel, who was speaking at the University of Exeter at a symposium organised by the Fisheries Society of the British Isles.

"This is important to know, so we can develop appropriate conservation actions for this important species."

Greenland sharks are known for their longevity, living for hundreds of years. Picture: @JUNIEL85
Greenland sharks are known for their longevity, living for hundreds of years. Picture: @JUNIEL85

ANCIENT BEASTS: SOME OF THE WORLD'S LONGEST-LIVING THINGS

• Aldabra giant tortoise - Species has been known to live to up to 255 years old, making it the oldest terrestrial animal in the world.

• Glass sponges - Found in the East China Sea and Southern Ocean, examples have been found that are more than 10,000 years old.

• Great Basin bristlecone pine - One tree is the oldest in North America at 5067 years old.

• Endolith - A microscopic organism that lives inside rock. In August 2013, researchers found evidence of endoliths on the ocean floor perhaps being millions of years old.

• Hydra - an ocean species that does not age, making it technically immortal.

• Creme Puff - The oldest known domestic cat, who died in Austin Texas in 2005 aged 38 years and three days.

• Jeanne Calment - French great grandmother who died at 122 years and 164 days in 1997. She outlived both her daughter and grandson by several decades.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission



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