World's oldest shark lives for centuries

The elusive Greenland shark (US NOAA)
The elusive Greenland shark (US NOAA)

Scientists have discovered one slow-growing species of shark can live for centuries, making it the longest-living vertebrate known to man.

Not much is known about how long Greenland sharks can live, but a new study published in journal Science has discovered they can roam the seas much longer than any humans.

Scientists used radiocarbon dating on the eyes of the Arctic species, some of which had been caught as by-catch in commercial operations.

They looked at 28 female Greenland sharks measuring between 81cm to 502cm, revealing a life-span of at least 272 years.

The smallest of the sharks tested - 220cm or less - shows signs of the radiocarbon "bomb pulse" - marking the 1960s, when carbon in the atmosphere increased following the detonation of atomic bombs in that era.

Sharks from the pre-bomb era were revealed to reach sexual maturity by around 155 years.

The biggest one they found, which measured 502cm, was thought to be 392 years old, give or take 120 years.

The Greenland shark even outlives the bowhead whale which is thought to live for more than 100 years, with one in a study thought to be more than 200 years old.

The elusive shark species is native to the waters of the north Atlantic Ocean.