Earth’s Oldest Animal May Hold Key To Longevity

Get this–you think you’re getting old–well, researchers at the University of Copenhagen say they’ve come across the oldest living vertebrate. And no, it’s not a big ol’ tortoise.

In fact, it’s a Greenland shark, and these scientists say this shark could be anywhere from 272 years to over 512 years old! They’re thinking she (yes, she) is about 400 years old–and blind to boot–as Greenland sharks are, due to the multitude of parasites crowding their eyes. Think about it: this deep-water dame possibly could have been swimming around devouring prey as Shakespeare was walking the earth looking for inspiration. Would you believe….the 400 year old virgin? (Actually, if she were a normal Greenland, she would have reached sexual maturity at around age 150. Better late than never.)

Somebody call the folks at Sharknado, because if she’s in fact older than 512 years, they could get busy filming “Evil Medieval Shark”– Parts I, II and III.

So how in the world do you figure out how old a really ancient shark is? Well, if you’re a marine biologist from Copenhagen U leading a team of researchers, you start by doing radiocarbon dating on material from her eye lid. (No idea how they obtain eye lid material from a fierce, cranky old shark. And quite frankly, I’m glad it’s not my day job.)

The team admits they really don’t know this veteran of the sea’s true age (a lady never tells) but their estimate was enough to get their research published in the “Science” journal. And enough for those in the know to say it’s a slam dunk: she really is the oldest thing on earth with a spine. I can’t help but have immense respect for this stubborn dame who’s outsmarted fishermen and dangerous prey for century after century after century. Admit it, you’re a little impressed.

I also can’t help wonder what might be around *without a spine * that might be even older. It’s pretty humbling, when you get right down to it. Shout out to the mother of all sharks. Much respect. And many more birthdays to you.

P.S. In case you’re wondering: YES. Scientists are advocating the protection of this species so they can try to determine if these sharks hold any clues to extreme longevity that might be useful to humans. Stay tuned.

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