Researchers determined the animal's age by examining its eye tissues

By Kelli Bender
Updated August 15, 2016 02:42 PM

Sorry tortoises, you’re losing seniority.

Scientists believe they have found Earth’s oldest creature with a backbone: a Greenland shark living in the icy waters of the Arctic.

According to the Associated Press, a female Greenland shark, who just recently passed away, was estimated to be about 400 years old at the time of her death.

To come to this number, researchers examined a group of 28 dead female Greenland sharks. The creatures’ ages were estimated through examination of each shark’s eye tissues. Using this technique, the research team concluded about eight of the sharks were 200 or older, several had been alive for three centuries and at least one almost hit the 400 mark.

This new discovery beats out the current record holder for oldest animal with a backbone, which belongs to a 211-year-old bowhead whale.

But don’t edit the record yet. While scientists place the elderly shark around the age of 392, there is a margin of error of about plus or minus 120 years, which could place the 16.5 foot shark in an entirely different century.

“It’s an estimate. It’s not a determination,” Julius Nielsen, the lead author of the Greenland shark study, said of the dating technique used. “It is the best we can do.”

Even if the shark ended up on the lowest end of the spectrum, at an age of 272, she would still have the whale beat. So congrats, Ms. Shark, your species continually manages to surprise us.

While the Greenland shark’s secret to longevity is still a mystery, researchers think their cold water habitat helps, along with the animal’s slow metabolism.

“I don’t know why they get as old, but I hope someone will find out,” Nielsen said.