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Frozen Enigma: 100-Year-Old Greenland Shark, Which Can Live for 500 Years, Washes Ashore

Rarely Spotted 100-Year-Old Shark Washes Ashore in Greenland
Source: Greenland Institute of Natural Resources

A 100-year-old beached Greenland shark is giving scientists the chance to study the rarely spotted species thought to be the longest-lived vertebrate.

Jan. 25 2024, Published 3:01 p.m. ET

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A remarkable discovery unfolded in the Arctic as a 100-year-old Greenland shark washed ashore, providing scientists with a unique opportunity to delve into the mysteries of this seldom-seen species.

With an estimated lifespan surpassing 500 years, Greenland sharks stand as potential record-holders for the longest-lived vertebrates. The lifeless body of a nearly 13-foot-long female shark was found recently in Avannarliit, near the capital city Nuuk, as announced by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GINR).

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Biologists, determining the shark's age to be over 100 years old, observed signs indicating she was "getting ready for new offspring" because she had an unusually large liver.

Following the discovery, the GINR team dissected the shark, searching for any indications of pregnancy such as eggs or embryos. However, no such signs were found, according to the Miami Herald.

Daniel Estévez-Barcia, a biologist with GINR, speculated that the shark met its demise in a fjord, likely caught by fishermen on a longline vessel, noting that the “entire tail section had been cut away.”

The team was alerted about the stranded shark by witnesses like Annie Busk Lennert, who captured a photo of the deceased animal. Lennert described observing the shark through binoculars during a storm the previous day, highlighting the challenge of discerning whether the animal was playing or engaged in a struggle.

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Weather records from the time of the discovery indicated harsh conditions in Nuuk, marked by wintry elements such as wind, snow and "heavy freezing rain."

Prompted by the urgency of the situation, the GINR team drove to the beach and collected samples of the shark for further study before the tide could sweep it away.

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While scientists generally estimate the lifespan of Greenland sharks to be at least 250 years, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggested in an October 2023 article that they might live over 500 years.

The species' ability to endure the cold temperatures of the Arctic Ocean year-round sets it apart, with lengths of up to 20 feet and the capability to dive to depths as low as 7,200 feet.

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NOAA proposed one theory for the Greenland shark's extended lifespan, attributing it to a remarkably slow metabolism — an adaptation to the frigid depths it inhabits.

Carbon dating indicated that a nearly 16-foot-long female fell within the age range of 272 to 512 years, making it the longest-lived vertebrate even at the lower end of the estimates.

Despite their impressive longevity, Greenland sharks face challenges, with scientists considering them "likely naturally rare" and expressing concerns about their proximity to extinction.

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