The Greenland shark is the oldest vertebrate on the planet

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The massive, slow-moving Greenland shark is, according to new research, the oldest living vertebrate on the planet and could live to more than 400 years and only reaches sexual maturity aged 130.

Radiocarbon dating of the eye lens nuclei from 28 female Greenland reveals their vast age - nearly 200 years more than the oldest known mammal, the bowhead whale which can reach ages of more than 200 years.

The deep water Greenland shark at more than 5m long is one of the largest carnivorous sharks and was known to have an extremely sluggish growth rate of about 1 cm per year, but the research published on Thursday calculated the Greenland shark's lifespan for the first time.

Danish marine biologist Julius Nielsen said radiocarbon dating that analysed the shark's eye lens found that the oldest of 28 sharks studied was likely about 392 years old, with 95 per cent certainty of an age range between 272 and 512 years.

Nielsen, a University of Copenhagen doctoral student who led the study published in the journal Science, said the findings should bring this shark much-deserved respect.

'This species is completely overlooked, and only a few scientists in the world are working with this species,' Nielsen said.

'Our findings show that even though the uncertainty is great that they should be considered the oldest vertebrate animal in the world,' Nielsen added.

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