Oldest marine vertebrate
Last updated: May 11, 2018 at 2:09 am
Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) — According to a study published in 2016 (Nielsen et al.), the Greenland shark has a life expectancy of at least 272 years, and sexual maturity may not be reached before 156 ± 22 years. The oldest shark in the study was aged at 392 ± 120 years. A fully grown Greenland shark could thus potentially live over 500 years.
Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is believed to live more than 200 years, possibly due to genetic differences that result in very low incidence of disease. The longevity of some individuals was determined by old harpoon points embedded in their blubber. The bowhead whale is also the largest animal ever genetically sequenced.
Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) — In September 1988, a leatherback was found washed ashore in Gwynedd (UK). It was estimated to be 100 years old.
Nielsen, J., Hedeholm, R. B., Heinemeier, J., Bushnell, P. G., Christiansen, J. S., Olsen, J., … Steffensen, J. F. 2016. Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). Science (New York, N.Y.), 353(6300), 702-4. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf1703
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Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.