400-year-old shark confirmed as world's oldest vertebrate

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen use radiocarbon dating to confirm the age of a Greenland shark. Estimated to have been born around the same time William Shakespeare died, the shark is as old as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Scientists have officially confirmed the Greenland shark to be the oldest living vertebrate after discovering that one particular female specimen is an estimated 400 years old.

A study led by Julius Nielsen from the University of Copenhagen used radiocarbon dating on 28 Greenland sharks, one of the largest carnivores with a length of five metres.

A Greenland shark is seen on the research vessel Pamiut in southwest Greenland, in this undated handout picture from Julius Nielsen.

"We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were," Nielsen was cited as saying by the BBC.

“It kicks off the bowhead whale as the oldest vertebrate animal,” he said, referring to the former 211-year-old record holder.

A Greenland shark swims near the surface after its release from the research vessel Sanna in northern Greenland, in this undated handout picture from Julius Nielsen.

The shark’s age is a rough estimate. Its actual age could be 512, with the lowest estimate being 272. But the Greenland shark cannot be confirmed as the oldest living animal ever, with the official record holder being a clam in Iceland which died at the age of 507.

Nonetheless, assuming that the age of the shark is 400, one can say it has been alive since the early 17th century.

A two-meter-long Greenland shark female is seen in the waters off southwestern Greenland, in this undated handout picture from Julius Nielsen.

To reflect on the shark’s age, TRT World looks back on what took place exactly 400 years ago in the year 1616, which could possibly be the year the shark was born.

Moriscos expelled from Spain

The Moriscos, or the Moors who were forced to convert to Christianity after the Spanish Inquisition, were expelled from Spain on the decree of King Philip III.

Disembarking of the Moriscos at Oran port (1613, Vicente Mostre), Fundación Bancaja de Valencia

Sultan Ahmet (Blue Mosque) completed in Istanbul, Turkey

The construction of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque, was finally completed after seven years of work in Istanbul's historic Fatih district. Built by Albanian architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, a student of the famous Mimar Sinan, the mosque was named after its sponsor, Sultan Ahmet I of the Ottoman Empire, who died a year after its completion. 

Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Istanbul

William Shakespeare died

English poet and playwright William Shakespeare passed away in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1616 at the age of 52. To this day no one has solved the mystery of his premature death, which came not long after he signed his will. Some say he died of fever, whereas other narrations claim his death was a result of heavy drinking.

Battle of Cape Celidonia

A Spanish naval fleet under the command of Captain Don Francisco de Rivera emerged victorious from a standoff with Ottoman vessels off the island of Cyprus on July 14, 1616. The battle took place in the context of the Ottoman-Habsburg struggle for control of the Mediterranean.

Spanish galleons fighting off Ottoman galleys. Oil on canvas by Juan de la Corte (1597–1660), Naval Museum of Madrid

Establishment of the city of Belém, Brazil

Its name is Portuguese for Bethlehem. Belém was founded on January 12, 1616 in the northern Brazilian state of Para as a port city at the opening to the Amazon River. Today it is home to some 1.5 million people.

The city of Belém, Brazil, seen from a boat on the river Guamá, in the SE of the city. (Cayambe)

Peter Paul Rubens paints ‘The Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt’

Flemish artist Peter Paul Ruben completed this famous masterpiece in 1616 in the Belgian city of Antwerp. It depicts a hunt on the banks of the River Nile by men in oriental costumes while riding on Arabian horses. Today, it is on display at the Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany.

Royal Palace of Naples built

Serving as a palace, museum and tourist destination in the southern Italian city of Naples, this historic building was once used as a residence by the Bourbon Kings of the Two Sicilies during the 18th and 19th century. It was originally meant to house King Philip III of Spain but it never fulfilled this purpose. 

Homer's work translated to English

English dramatist, translator and poet George Chapman was the first to translate all of the works of Homer into the English language in 1616. 

Homer and His Guide, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905)

Establishment of Medellín, Colombia

Colombia's second largest city and the capital of the state of Antioquia was established in 1616. According to 2014 estimates, it is home to nearly 2.5 million people. It was founded by Francisco Herrera Campuzano as a small indigenous village called San Lorenzo de Aburrá, which is today located in the El Poblado commune.

TRTWorld and agencies