A scientist referred to the Greenland shark as "basically a giant swimming nose," since it has poor eyesight and relies on a powerful sense of smell to hunt in the dark, deep and frigid waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic.
The Greenland shark is one of the largest living species of shark, growing to more than 20 feet, despite a slow growth rate. But of all these attributes, the one it might be best known for from this day forth is longevity.
A new study released Thursday in Science revealed that the oldest Greenland shark is at least 272 years old, making it older than America.
"I am 95 percent certain that the oldest of these sharks is between 272 and 512 years old," lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist at the University of Copenhagen, told the Los Angeles Times.
"That's a big range, but even the age estimate of at least 272 years makes it the oldest vertebrate animal in the world."
The oldest animal record holder is a clam called Ming that was dredged up from the ocean floor off the coast of Iceland. It was said to be 507 years old when it died in 2006, but there are other animals that have been known to live for more than a century.
Shortraker rockfish from off the Alaskan coast and orange roughy off Namibia are both estimated to live up to 200 years or longer. Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise from the Australia Zoo lived to be about 170 years old.
Still, if Nielsen's estimations are correct, the Greenland shark would be a record breaker.
Using a technique called eye lens radiocarbon dating, Nielsen examined the eye lenses of 28 female Greenland sharks that died accidentally during the Greenland Institute for National Resources' commercial fish-monitoring program, according to National Geographic.
The largest shark in the study was 16.5-feet long and estimated to be 392 years old, give or take 120 years.
"In colder temperatures, growth slows and fish tend to get older," Aaron Fisk, professor at the University of Windsor who has studied Greenland sharks for 20 years, told the Times. "It's not hard to imagine that they could be 200 or 400 years old."
Not all researchers agreed with the study's results, however. Aaron MacNeil of the Australian Institute of Marine Science told Reuters that a 392-year-old shark "seems high to me."
He also told the Times, "I don't think this is the final word on Greenland shark ages."
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