The Shark that Escaped the Ravages of Time

You would probably agree if I told you that sharks were born in the North Atlantic, around the time when Humayun ruled the Throne of Delhi and Henry VIII of England executed his second wife, Anne Boleyn. That’s considering the fact, that Sharks are ancient creatures, that have been living on earth for about 420 million years now.

Left: Emperor Humayun who died by falling off the roof of his library.

Right: King Henry VIII who had 6 wives among which one died, one survived, two were divorced and two were beheaded.

But, what if I told you that some of those sharks could still be alive? Trust me it’s actually possible.
Don’t worry it’s not the one from JAWS though. This time humans won’t end up on it’s menu…

It’s true that the Greenland Shark can potentially live upto 512 years and attains sexual maturity at about 150 years!!!
No kidding…
This makes the Greenland Shark the longest living vertebrate in the world.

The Greenland shark is one of the largest sharks in the ocean and can grow to up to 7.3 m and weigh more than 1,400 kg. They have a slow metabolism and are among the slowest moving sharks in the world reaching average speeds of 0.3 m/s.
They inhabit the deep and icy waters of the North Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans. They have been found at depths of about 2.2 km under the ocean.

It’s not a fussy feeder and feeds on almost everything. From native fish and smaller sharks to seals, polar bears and even Raindeers are a part of their vast diet. They are apex predators of the oceans but wouldn’t shy away from scavenging a carcass. Humans attacks are unheard of since they don’t encounter us in the icy depths that they inhabit in.

They are host to a copepod called Ommatokoita elongata that feeds on the shark’s cornea that blinds the shark. It’s speculated that these parasites are bioluminescent and help the shark attract prey in the depths. Since these sharks live in deep and dark waters, they don’t depend on their eyesight but rely mostly on their sense of smell.

As an adaptation to living at depth, it has a high concentration of trimethylamine oxide(TMAO) and urea in its tissues, which makes the meat highly poisonous.The meat can be treated for safe consumption by boiling in several changes of water, drying, or fermenting for several months to produce kæstur hákal.
The kæstur hákal is a local delicacy in Iceland and is consumed round the year. It has a pungent taste and is said to be one of the worst tasting delicacies in the world.

Treated Greenland shark meat.
The treatment causes the poisonous TMAO to get converted into trimethylamine that can cause extreme drunkenness.

Befor WWII, the Greenland Sharks were overfished for their liver oil which was used in machines back then, but after a synthetic alternative was found the demand fell and today these sharks are just caught by fishermen as by catch. Due to their late maturity, they are still recovering from the impact.

The reason for their longevity could be the habitat they have successfully adapted to… Most animals wouldn’t survive the deep, cold and deserted arctic waters. The extreme climate slows their metabolism and growth rate, which gives them a longer lifespan.

It’s habitat gives it longevity but not immortality…

4 thoughts on “The Shark that Escaped the Ravages of Time

  1. Fascinating! I knew about their long lifespans, but I didn’t know about the parasitic copepod that eats their corneas. I also didn’t know that Iceland had the worst tasting delicacy in the world, although it doesn’t surprise me. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

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