Scientists have discovered a shark in the North Atlantic Ocean estimated to be up to 512 years old, making it the oldest living vertebrate on earth.
According to a research study published in the journal Science in August of 2016, marine biologist Julius Nielsen and his team discovered the ancient creature roaming the frigid waters in the North Atlantic while conducting a broader study to determine the average lifespan of the Greenland shark.
Using the shark’s length of 16.5-feet and radiocarbon dating, the group determined the shark was aged between 272 and 512 years old, not only making it the oldest in the group of 28 Greenland sharks studied, but also older than Shakespeare with an estimated birth year between 1501 and 1744.
“We had an expectation that they would be very long-lived animals, but I was surprised that they turned out to be as old as they did,” Nielsen said of the discovery, according to the BBC.
To conduct the study, the group of researchers studied and analyzed a total of 28 female Greenland sharks and used a technique to measure the amount of radiocarbon in the eye lenses of Greenland sharks. The lens grows throughout the shark’s life, meaning the older the animal, the more layers to the lens.
Previously, the only way to determine the age of the animal was via its size, which failed to produce a scientifically accurate estimate.
“The secret behind the success of this study is that we had young and old animals, medium-sized and large animals, and we could compare them all,” Nielsen noted.
The radiocarbon dating of the 28 different sharks revealed an average lifespan of at least 272 years, according to the study. The largest shark, measuring 16.5-feet, was estimated to be approximately 392 years old, with Nielsen and his team determining with 95 percent certainty that the shark was between 272 and 512 years old.
“It’s important to keep in mind there’s some uncertainty with this estimate,” Nielsen said. “But even the lowest part of the age range — at least 272 years — still makes Greenland sharks the longest-living vertebrate known to science.”
The Greenland Shark, also known as the gurry shark, grey shark, is closely related to the Pacific and southern sleeper sharks and is part of the family Somniosidae. The sharks can grow up to 21 feet long and weigh up to 2,200 pounds. With Nielsen’s study, it is now known to have the longest known lifespan of all vertebrate species.