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Research shows 300 year lifespan for Greenland sharks

Aug. 17, 2016

Research findings on Greenland sharks from IU South Bend professor of physiology Peter Bushnell and his colleagues have been published in the prestigious Science journal.

greenland shark

Greenland sharks can reach 21 feet in length and live an average of 272 years. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIUS NIELSEN

The latest findings show the sharks to be at least 300 years old making them the longest-lived vertebras on earth. Bushnell has been part of a project studying Greenland sharks since 2011.

Due to their habitat deep in the frigid waters of the Artic and North Atlantic Oceans, the Greenland shark, Somniosus microcephalus, species is notoriously elusive to study and their lifespan has previously been tentatively estimated until now. The species, which can reach 21 feet and 2000 pounds, lives an average of 272 years, reaching sexual maturity at approximately 150 years. Some sharks may even live beyond 400 years.

Bushnell and team’s paper "Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus)" provides in-depth evidence of the Greenland sharks’ lifespan.

The longevity study is just one of many since the start of the Greenland Shark project in 2012. Other studies include satellite tracking to measure migratory behavior and conditions, such as where the sharks swim, how deep, and the water temperature, the metabolic rate, skeletal and heart muscle properties, and the blood oxygen-binding properties of Greenland sharks.

greenland shark

Due to their habitat deep in the frigid waters of the Artic and North Atlantic Oceans, the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) species is notoriously elusive to study. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIUS NIELSEN

"There are a variety of different avenues we are pursuing in an effort to elucidate their fundamental biology," Bushnell said.

The Greenland shark project was spearheaded by Bushnell and John Steffensen of Copenhagen University, with funding from various sources, including National Geographic, Save Our Seas Foundation and the Danish Research Council.

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