400-Year-Old Greenland Shark Is Longest-Living Vertebrate On Earth

She was probably born around the 17th century....

The Greenland shark is now the longest-living known vertebrate on planet Earth, scientists have reported.

Using radiocarbon dating the team of scientists discovered a female believed to be 400 years old.


Growing at just 1cm a year, these slow-moving (and slow-growing) animals don’t actually reach sexual maturity until they’re 150 years old.

Predominantly found swimming through the waters of the North Atlantic, the sharks were always suspected of having incredibly long lifespans, however it wasn’t until the new dating method was introduced that scientists were able to determine just how long.

The scientists have published their research in the journal Science.

It was originally believed that dating a Greenland shark would be virtually impossible due to the nature of its composition, however scientists discovered one part of the shark that technically never changes.


Lead author Julius Nielsen: “The Greenland shark’s eye lens is composed of a specialised material - and it contains proteins that are metabolically inert,”

That means that once created, those proteins never leave the body, effectively becoming a time stamp for when the shark was born.

Looking at a range of sharks that had died after being caught in fishing nets the team discovered one female.

Using the radiocarbon technique the team were able to estimate that she was between 272 and 512 years old. However it seems most likely that she was around 400 years old.

Chesnot via Getty Images

That means she would have probably been born in the 17th century, when Europeans started colonising the Americas in earnest and Louis XIV began his reign of ‘Absolute Monarchy’ from the vast palace of Versailles.

The discovery has huge implications for the conservation of these animals which were traditionally over-fished during the Second World War.

With a fairly large population of teenagers, the sharks will need to be protected for at least the next 100 years while they grow into sexual maturity.