The Greenland shark which can live for four centuries or more currently breaks the record for the planet’s oldest living vertebrate. In the animal kingdom, the oldest living animal was a 507-year-old clam named after the Ming dynasty which marked the period it was born.
In Greenland, however, the shark known by the name of Somniosus microcephalus is not something to marvel at. Even though it can get as large as the Great White shark, it is often found tangled in the fishing lines targeted at smaller fish.
Additionally, the Greenland shark cannot be consumed until its flesh is dried out because its muscle tissue is laden in high quantities of toxic chemicals. Yet researchers at the University of Indiana traveled to Greenland for a totally different reason: they heard that the animal can get impressively old.
According to a research paper released Thursday, the shark can live for centuries. Even though dating tools may not be 100 percent accurate, scientists believe that the Greenland shark can live between 272 years and 400 years or more. The previous record holder for the vertebrate category is the bowhead whale which has a life span of 211 years.
Researchers think that the Greenland shark gets to live for so many years because it has a very big and cold body. The team argued that the temperature of a body has a profound influence on the chemical reactions within it. For instance, if temperatures are elevated, reactions are sped up.
The Greenland shark however lives in extremely cold temperatures that slow down its metabolism. Furthermore, animals with larger bodies have a slow metabolism by default. For instance, mice have faster metabolism than elephants. Scientists explained that a slow metabolism translates into slower aging processes.
The recent paper, however, was met with mixed reviews. Critics said that while the newly-calculated life span for the Greenland shark is quite impressive, the maximum age seems exaggerated as it is way higher than other studies had suggested. Critics said that this doesn’t mean that the study is flawed, but more research needs to be done.
The team replied that they have studied 28 specimens and they are 95 percent sure that the oldest shark could have been 512 years old when it died. But study authors believe that 390 years old is a more accurate age.
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