Why is the Greenland shark special?

The Greenland shark seems more suited to the pages of a fantasy novel than real life. It is the longest living vertebrate and the slowest swimming shark in the world. It can live up to 400 years and beyond and reaches maturity only at the age of 150! In fact, some scientists believe that there could be specimens living in the oceans that are 6 centuries old! Imagine a Greenland shark that may have been alive during the time of Christopher Columbus, swimming about today!

This living fossil is also called sleeper shark and swims at a slow and ponderous speed of 1.2 km per hour. Weighing between 400 and 1400 kg, this shark can grow up to 7.31 metres long! It produces more than 700 pups (young ones) during its lifetime.

It is found deep down in the icy cold waters of the Arctic Ocean around the continental shelves of Greenland, Canada and Iceland, at a depth of 2,200 metres. This grey-green, stealthy predator is known to creep up on its prey and swallow it whole. Although apex predators, this shark will eat any flesh dead or alive and are believed to be primarily scavengers by some scientists.

Large proportions of these sharks are affected by parasitic attacks on their eyes and are partially blind. However this does not affect them much, as there is very little light deep down in the oceans and they are used to hunting in complete darkness.

The flesh of the Greenland shark is poisonous. It contains a chemical called Trimethylamine oxide, which can cause intestinal distress and even death if ingested. However, the early settlers in Greenland found a way to prepare the flesh so that it can be eaten safely. They do this by a long process of fermentation and the resultant product, although safe to eat, has been described as very strong smelling and foul tasting by some well-known chefs!

The Greenland shark is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN due to overhunting, parasitic attacks and climate change.

Picture Credit : Google

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