Scientists say Greenland sharks can live for 400 years

greenland shark

Researchers using radiocarbon dating have determined that Greenland sharks, slow-moving giants that live in the cold, dark waters of the North Atlantic, are the longest-living vertebrates on Earth, with one recorded as being 400 years old.

Which explains the old Greenland shark quip that goes something like: “God must like practical jokes; why would He make it so female Greenland sharks reach their sexual peak at age 150 while males reach theirs at 75?

Lame jokes aside, the recent evidence uncovered by the team at the University of Copenhagen nearly doubles the age of oldest-known living vertebrate. The former record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old, according to the BBC.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of 28 Greenland sharks, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old, according to research published in the journal Science.

“We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were,” said lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen.

Greenland sharks, which live farther north than any other shark species, can grow to more than 20 feet and 2,100 pounds.

Determining the age of Greenland sharks proved difficult.

“For some fish, scientists are able to examine ear bones called otoliths, which when sectioned, show a pattern of concentric rings that scientists can count as they would the rings in a tree,” according to the BBC. “Sharks are harder, but some species, such as the Great White, have calcified tissue that grows in layers on their back bones, that can also be used to age the animals.”

But because the Greenland shark is a very, very soft shark, with no hard body parts where growth layers are deposited, it was believed that the age could not be investigated, Nielsen told the BBC.

However the team discovered a means of determining the age of the sharks.

“The Greenland shark’s eye lens is composed of a specialized material – and it contains proteins that are metabolically inert,” Neilson said. “Which means after the proteins have been synthesized in the body, they are not renewed any more. So we can isolate the tissue that formed when the shark was a pup, and do radiocarbon dating.”

The team looked at 28 sharks, most of which had died after being caught in fishing nets as by-catch.

Using this technique, they established that the largest shark – a 16-foot-long female – was extremely ancient.

Because radiocarbon dating does not produce exact dates, they believe that she could have been as “young” as 272 or as old as 512. But she was most likely somewhere in the middle, or about 400 years old, the news service reported.

It means she was born between the years of 1501, or less than a decade after Columbus landed in the Western hemisphere, and 1744, or, 12 years after George Washington was born. Most likely the date of birth was in the 17th century. If she were exactly 400 years old, she would have been born the same year William Shakespeare died.

The oldest invertebrate is a 507-year-old clam called Ming. If the female Greenland shark’s age is at the upper end of the scale, she will have outlasted the long-lived clam – and certainly had a much more exciting existence.

And, for the record, Greenland sharks, both male and female, appear to reach sexual maturity at around age 150.

Giant hornet attacks: Very real, very painful

asian giant hornet

A tidbit often trotted out to allay the anxiety of those who decline to so much as dip their toes in the ocean for fear of shark attack is that far more people die from insect stings each year than from man-eating fish.

The difference being, of course, that shark attacks generate considerable media attention while insect stings, even when they cause death, rarely make more than local news.

Not so in China, where more than two dozen people were recently killed and hundreds more injured in a wave of attacks by giant hornets.

Victims described being chased for a thousand feet or more by the creatures and stung as many as 200 times, according to The Guardian.

The culprit appears to be the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), which grows up to two inches long with a quarter-inch sting.

It is the world’s largest hornet and is known colloquially as the “yak-killer hornet.”

The Asian giant hornet injects a particularly potent venom that can damage tissue. Its sting can lead to anaphylactic shock and renal failure.

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Great whites: even hungrier than you thought

great white shark

Perhaps not surprising to any who suffers from galeophobia, researchers now believe great white sharks eat far more than previously thought.

An Australian study published this week found that great white sharks, the world’s largest predatory fish, eat three to four times more food than once believed.

That’s considerably more than the findings of a 1982 US research team. Then, it was estimated that a meal of approximately 66 pounds of mammal blubber could sustain a 2,160-pound shark for approximately six weeks, according to the website Real Clear Science.

However, University of Tasmania researchers reported this week that 66 pounds of blubber was only enough to glut a great white for about two weeks, according to a study published in Scientific Reports on the website.

Researchers tagged a dozen great white sharks off the coast of the Neptune Islands off South Australia and calculated their metabolic rate derived from swimming speeds, according to Agence France-Presse.

They then worked out how much energy the sharks burned and how much food they required.

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California shark attacks: fear and facts

california shark attacks

Those afraid to so much as set a toe in the ocean for fear of sharks are often told that far more people die annually from reactions to stings from insects than are claimed by the bite of Jaws.

Indeed, the average number of fatalities worldwide per year between 2001 and 2010 from unprovoked shark attacks was 4.4, according to the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Conversely, between 1979 and 1990 there were 718 venomous deaths – mostly from bees and wasps – in the United States alone, according to the World Health Organization. That’s nearly 60 deaths annually in that period, according to the Toledo Blade.

Yet, as the Blade pointed out, no one talks about death, or potential death, from the sting of bees, hornets or even fire ants, all of which can bring on anaphylactic shock for those with allergies to insect venom.

And while shark attacks can occur just about anywhere in the coastal United States, California seems to get its fair share of publicity as a hotspot for such incidents.

But as the above map shows, there have been relatively few shark attacks in California over the past 160-plus years, particularly when one considers the millions of people who flock to the Golden State’s beaches each year to swim, surf, snorkel and whatnot in its waters.

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Huge Great White shark landed in Mexico

One of the largest Great White sharks ever recorded was caught this past weekend off the coast of Mexico, a 20-foot monster that weighed approximately 2,000 pounds. 

The Great White was hauled up by two commercial fishermen in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, apparently in a net, according to local news reports. 

The fishermen had no idea they’d captured the massive shark until it was brought to the surface, believing instead they had merely netted a large haul of smaller fish, one of them said in an interview with Pisces Sportfishing, which is located in the Baja California resort city of Cabo San Lucas. 

The publication identified the two fisherman as only Guadalupe and Baltazar.

The shark was dead when it was brought to the surface. 

“The fishermen, whose skiff measures 22 feet and is powered by a 75-horsepower outboard, required an hour to tow the carcass two miles to the coast,” according to “About 50 people helped drag the behemoth onto dry sand. 

The Great White was measured at six meters long, or 19.8 feet. 

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