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400-year-old polar shark - the longest-living vertebrate on Earth - video

Listen to this article Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have determined that the polar shark is the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet. All thanks to a study of 28 females caught in fishing nets using radiocarbon dating. This species of shark is one of the largest, and as it turns out, it is also
Published: August 15, 2016 - 20:14
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 13:53
400-year-old polar shark – the longest-living vertebrate on Earth – video
Listen to this article

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have determined that the polar shark is the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet. All thanks to a study of 28 females caught in fishing nets using radiocarbon dating. This species of shark is one of the largest, and as it turns out, it is also the longest-lived. However, our knowledge of these animals is still very limited.

Both the biology of these creatures and their habits have, until recently, remained shrouded in complete secrecy. Now, further extraordinary information has been provided by research conducted by Danish scientists at the University of Copenhagen.

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The two largest individuals they studied measured 493 cm and 502 cm and were 335 and 392 years old respectively. In contrast, the average age of the shark group studied was 272 years. Such results made the polar shark the most viable vertebrate on Earth, thanks to the latest research.

More than 50 years ago, Danish marine biologist Paul Marinus Hansen discovered that this species of shark grows only a few centimetres a year. Since then, researchers around the world have speculated on how long polar sharks live. The question has remained unanswered until now, as the age of this particular species cannot be determined using traditional methods.

The answer that has been troubling ichthyologists around the world has been provided by studying the lens of a shark’s eye, using the method of radiocarbon dating. This innovative technique was used for the first time and described in detail in the prestigious American journal Science. Staff from the biology department at the University of Copenhagen will provide the answer that their environment has been waiting half a century for.

Usually the age is determined by examining calcified tissues, but in this case this was not possible because this shark has no such tissues. The new method used by Dr Julius Nielsen and his team is based on examining the lens nucleus of the eye, which is already formed in the foetus and is therefore as old as the shark itself.

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It should be remembered, however, that the information gathered and research conducted by the Danes was only partly concerned with determining the age of polar sharks. As it turns out, this species is one big mystery and scientists have tried to answer as many nagging questions as possible.

The polar shark, also known as the Greenland shark, is a unique species distinguished by its slowness and longevity. They are the slowest sharks in the world. They move at a speed of 1.2 km/h. They reach sexual maturity at the age of… 150 years! Not surprisingly, the oldest specimens studied are almost 400 years old. On average, they reach a size of 4-5 metres, but the largest individual we met measured 6.4 metres, and probably the upper limit oscillates around 7.3 metres!

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Polar sharks inhabit the waters of Greenland, the North Sea, the North Atlantic, the Arctic Ocean and the White Sea. It is occasionally found in waters a little further south.

Source: news.ku.dk, bbc.com, wikipedia.org

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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