Shark That Can Life For 500 Years Found 4000 Miles From Its Home in the Caribbean

Greenland shark swimming, Somniosus microcephalus, shark with the longest known lifespan of all vertebrate species
Dotted Yeti/

Written by Jennifer Hollohan

Updated: September 6, 2023

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Researchers working in Caribbean waters got the shock of a lifetime after coming across a rare shark very far from home.

Students from Florida International University had partnered with local fishermen off the coast of Belize. Their mission was to find and tag tiger sharks. However, they discovered something far more impressive and unusual. A large shark got hung up on the end of the fishing lines. It wasn’t a tiger shark. And it didn’t look like any species the students or fishermen had ever seen. One of the students, Devanshi Kasana, snapped a quick photo to consult her advisor.

Her advisor believed it was a Greenland shark and subsequently received confirmation from experts on the elusive animal. 

Two things made this spotting so unusual. First is that this shark species lives in arctic waters, which are roughly 4,000 miles north of Belize. The other is that this shark species is ancient and half-blind. Scientists who study Greenland sharks estimate that they are 250-500 years old.

Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) 16 August 2013

This ancient shark lives in the Arctic Ocean since it thrives in cold water. So, it is highly unusual for one to venture over 4,000 miles south into much warmer water.

How Many Are Left in the World?

Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) are relatively shy creatures of the deep. They rarely get spotted by researchers or fishermen, making it slightly difficult to study them. Thankfully, they move incredibly slowly compared to some of their relatives. So, scientists have had the chance to gather a rough estimate of their population.

As of 2023, researchers estimate that there are between 7,000 and 15,000 Greenland sharks left. This low population is likely because they were a favorite of hunters at the turn of the 20th century.

What Do Greenland Sharks Normally Eat?

Greenland sharks aren’t overly picky about their diet. They will consume nearly anything and everything they can find. Some of their favorite prey include squid, fish, seabirds, and seals. But they are not the best hunters that roam the ocean depths. Many scientists believe this shark species targets prey while the unsuspecting marine animals sleep. Additionally, it may feast on animals that are already dead.

The smell of rotting flesh from other marine creatures of birds may draw the Greenland shark into a feast. However, these opportunistic feeders have also eaten reindeer, moose, and even polar bears! Researchers discovered these unusual mammals in the stomachs of Greenland sharks they dissected. 

Greenland shark near the ocean ground, Somniosus microcephalus - shark with the longest known lifespan of all vertebrate species.

Greenland sharks are half-blind and are not good hunters. They often target sleeping prey or eat dead animals.

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About the Author

Jennifer Hollohan is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. Jennifer has over twenty years of writing experience. She holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which she earned in 2005, and is a Herbalist. Jennifer lives in Colorado with her family. She loves hiking, admiring wildflowers, gardening, and making herbal tea.

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