Greenland Shark: the cold water predator can live up to 512 years | Photo: University of Copenhagen

The longest living vertebrate animal in the world is the Greenland shark.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen combined the apex predator's yearly growth rate with the carbon-14 dating of his eye lenses and concluded that the Greenland shark could live for more than 400 years.

"Because the center of the lens does not change from the time of a shark's birth, it allows the tissue's chemical composition to reveal a shark's age. We use well-established radiocarbon methods, but combine them in a new way," notes Julius Nielsen, Ph.D. student at University of Copenhagen's Department of Biology.

The Greenland shark, also known as gurry shark, swims in the cold waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. Scientists estimate that these creatures live for between 272 years and 512 years, and can grow up to 24 feet (7.3 meters).

"They are among the largest carnivorous sharks on the planet, and their role as an apex predator in the Arctic ecosystem is totally overlooked. By the thousands, they accidentally end up as by-catch across the North Atlantic, and I hope that our studies can help to bring a greater focus on the Greenland shark in the future," adds Nielsen.

The oldest vertebrate animal on planet Earth reaches sexual maturity at 150 years, and can reach 1985 pounds (900 kilograms) in weight. The Greenland shark is not considered dangerous to humans.

The results of the Danish research have been published in "Science," the scientific magazine published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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