In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, The Fins United Initiative is proud to present the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). Also known as eqalussuaq (the Inuit name; there are legends about these special sharks), this shark has recently made the news for possibly being the longest-living vertebrate. “Say whaaaat?”
According to a paper published mid-2016 in Science, the Greenland shark could live a very long time. “I am 95% certain that the oldest of these sharks is between 272 and 512 years old,” said lead author Julius Nielsen. “That’s a big range, but even the age estimate of at least 272 years makes it the oldest vertebrate animal in the world.” The findings are not necessarily conclusive, however. Either way, it’s pretty extraordinary!
As Dr. David Shiffman has pointed out on Twitter, this means that there are Greenland sharks that were born in the American Revolution that may still be roaming the ocean today and Greenland sharks that were around during the US civil war are still juveniles. Finfact: The Greenland shark also has poisonous flesh that has a high urea content!
Found in the frigid waters of the sub-Arctic ocean, these slow-moving sharks can grow up to 20 ft (m) in length making them some of the largest on the planet. Unlike some animals who go through a growth spurt period, however, previous research has shown that they grow as little as a centimetre per year! Not unusual for cold-water animals, as growth usually slows in colder temperatures. Usually a dark brown to purple colour, they have small eyes that are often covered in parasites (some copepods are even bioluminescent). Living in the dark, they are thought to heavily rely on a sense of smell rather than eyesight to stalk out prey.
These sharks have been in the news for other bizarre reasons before. While these sharks normally feed on fish, two stunned onlookers stumbled upon a Greenland shark choking on the carcass of a moose in a Newfoundland Harbour (no worries, the shark was saved). Oh, and they also feed on polar bears, no biggie. On top of a variety of fish prey, they also have preyed upon other sharks, skates, eels, and seals. Known to be a scavenger, they won’t pass up any opportunity for a good meal!
The IUCN has assessed this shark as Near Threatened (NT).
ever heard of this shark?
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TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
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