The 400 Year Old Greenland Shark

The Greenland Shark

A recently released study in the journal Science, has crowned the Greenland Shark as the oldest living vertebrae. Using radiocarbon dating, scientists discovered that these sharks can live to be over 400 years old. These mysterious sharks have been surprising scientists for decades.

Meanwhile in Iceland, they're eaten as a delicacy known as Hákarl. The taste is so foul it's often called, “Rotten Shark Meat,” by visitors. Even Anthony Bourdain said, it was the worst thing he’s ever eaten. Here are a few amazing facts about Hákarl and the mysterious Greenland Shark.

Theoretically, these beasts can live to be up to 432 years old. In fact, there are Greenland Sharks swimming the ocean that could have been born when Descartes and Galileo were still around. According to scientists, these sharks grow ½ an inch a year and they’ve been observed to be up to 18 feet long.

Hakárl hangs outdoors during the fermentation process.

Hakárl hangs outdoors during the fermentation process.

Greenland Shark meat is poisonous to eat, when fresh. Before it can be safely eaten the meat has to ferment for about five months. This is due to the Greenland Shark's blood, which carries high amounts of Urea and Trimethylamine Oxide. These two chemicals act as a natural anti-freeze. This allows the shark to go deep under the arctic sea-ice for long periods of time.

Another interesting fact about the Greenland Shark is their age of sexual maturity. Only one pregnant female has ever been observed by scientists and she was over 150 years old. Finding a mate could be a challenge for them since most adults are blind.

A Copepod clings to the eye of a Greenland Shark.

A Copepod clings to the eye of a Greenland Shark.

There exists a species of copepods, or parasites, unique to Greenland Sharks. These small critters latch onto their eyeballs for the duration of their life. The constant rubbing against the surface of the shark’s eye renders them blind. Lucky for the sharks, they spend a lot of time in the deep dark ocean, so sight isn’t essential for their survival. Their lack of sight may explain why they move incredibly slow.

Think sloth speed but with less reaction time. “It takes five seconds for a Greenland Shark to react,” according to Dr. Peter G. Bushnell, Professor of Biological Sciences at Indiana University South Bend. Despite their slow speeds and blindness these sharks continue to amaze scientists. They are active predators, and not just bottom feeders like scientists had assumed for years.

Cod, seal, reindeer, and even polar bear fur has been found inside the stomach of Greenland Sharks. There is a lot of mystery as to how they find their prey. Scientists speculate that they are the most patient hunters in the ocean, and can sneak up on prey under the dark sea-ice.

These sharks are so fascinating that they have their own museum. The Bjarnharhöfn Museum in Iceland is a two-hour drive from Reykjavík on the Snaeffesness Peninsula. With admission you can eat as much Hákarl as you’d like, if you can stomach it. Make sure to bring Brennevin with you. It’s Iceland’s national liquor and the locals call it, “Black Death.” Nothing better to wash down Hákarl with than some good ole’ Black Death huh?

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