Greenland Shark Is Oldest Living Vertebrate and Could Be 512 Years Old, Study Finds

Danish scientists believe they’ve discovered the longest-living vertebrate: a Greenland shark that could be as old as 512. If the data proves correct, the shark could have been alive before Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy and before Dutch settlers arrived in New York City. ECUADOR - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY TRAVEL ANIMALS

Danish scientists believe they've discovered the oldest living vertebrate: a Greenland shark lurking in the frigid North Atlantic and Arctic waters that could be up to 512 years old, according to the journal Science.

Greenland sharks grow at torpid pace of only about one centimeter per year. So when the scientists discovered a female shark measuring about 18 feet, it was clear the shark had witnessed a few centuries of history.

The team used radiocarbon dating to analyze the eye lens of 28 Greenland sharks. The oldest shark studied was likely about 392 years old. Radiocarbon dating has 95 percent certainty, meaning that the shark's true age could range between 272 and 512 years. If the data proves correct, the shark could have been alive when Galileo Galilei was still mapping the cosmos and Dutch settlers hadn't yet made it to New York City, and she would have been at least 151 years old when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Incredibly, the average age of sexual maturity for Greenland sharks is 156, but it could also occur as young as 134, according to the findings.

Little is known about the species. They have been observed in depths down to 1.4 miles. The sharks are known to prowl the Arctic and North Atlantic from eastern Canada to western Russia, but in 2013, a deep-sea research submarine spotted a 12-foot Greenland shark in the Gulf of Mexico. Greenland sharks have a distinct short and rounded snout and small eyes, and their rough skin can be creamy gray or blackish-brown. They are apex predators with a diet consisting mostly of other fish.

Before the study, led by marine biologist Julius Nielsen, the longest-living vertebrate on Earth was thought to be a bowhead whale. Its estimated lifespan is 211 years, according to Science.