Oldest marine vertebrate
Last updated: February 1, 2020 at 17:01 pm
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 up to 268 years, thus making it the oldest living mammal on Earth. The longevity of some individuals was determined by harpoon points from the 1800s found 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
Mayne, B., Berry, O., Davies, C. et al. A genomic predictor of lifespan in vertebrates. Sci Rep 9, 17866 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-54447-w
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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.