The Greenland shark, which can grow to 18 feet, is slow, with stunted pectoral fins, and looks somewhat dim-witted, with a blunt snout and a gaping mouth. It has atrocious eating habits, ranging from fresh halibut (that’s the good news) to rotting polar bear carcasses. They can be found throughout the North Atlantic, but particularly in cold and dark Arctic waters. And they live forever. Well, not forever, but at least 400 years, and perhaps longer. Scientists speculate that some of the larger ones alive today could have been born before Columbus. There is no question that they are the longest-lived vertebrates in the world.
Scientists determined all this recently through radiocarbon dating techniques, studying proteins in the lens of the eye, in 28 female Greenland sharks in a catch-and-release study in Norway and Greenland. They determined that the sharks grow only 1 cm a year. The average age was 272 years old, but the largest were 335 to 392 years old. One 16-foot female could be as old as 512 years.
They attribute the old age to the sharks’ slow metabolism and the very cold waters, but they have no real idea. “I’m just the messenger on this,” one of the told The New Yorker. “I have no idea.” Read more: