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Meet the oldest known vertebrate in the world

A Greenland shark just took home the gold medal for longest-living vertebrate. This slow-moving native of the Arctic and North Atlantic can live to be 272 years old, according to a new study in Science.

To estimate the age of this elder fish, an international team of researchers used radiocarbon dating on the eye lenses of 28 dead female Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus). In particular, they examined isotopes at the center of the eye lenses, which were formed when the sharks were born.  

Only three of the sharks had carbon-14 isotopes associated with nuclear bomb testing during the 1950s, meaning the rest were older than 75 years old. By correlating shark length with radiocarbon dates, the team estimated the largest shark was 392 years old, give or take 120 years.

“Even with the lowest part of this uncertainty, 272 years, even if that is the maximum age, it should still be considered the longest-living vertebrate,” lead author Julius Neilsen told the BBC.

The researchers also determined that Greenland sharks, which grow less than one inch a year, don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 150 years old. Requiring more than a century to reproduce raises significant concerns for this already-threatened species.

The world title for longest-living creature, however, still belongs to a 507 year-old clam, an invertebrate.  

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