Sometimes a story just shows up, like a shark to blood.
A word search of this Humble Sky blog exposes two overexposed words: longevity and humility. Not directly related in any particular context, longevity is used to define a long, healthy and purposeful life; and humility (and humble, the namesake of this blog) is the oft-praised virtue exemplified by modesty and contentment.
Low and be cold, the two words came together today. Scientists discovered the planet’s longest-lived animal with a backbone. The new record holder, by at least a century, is the inconspicuous Greenland shark, according to the study just published in Science magazine. Of the 28 of these vertebrae studied, eight were 200 years or older. “The oldest was 392, plus or minus 120 years,” estimated the team of marine biologists from the University of Copenhagen, who used a unique carbon-dating process on dead sharks it collected to determine growth rate — only about 1 centimeter a year — and age.
“Even the study’s authors were astonished by the results,” reported USA Today (8-12-16), “which allow the humble Greenland shark to steal the longevity prize from the bowhead whale, the previous record-holding vertebrae.” The oldest bowhead reached 211. [Emphasis added.]
The sharks’ survival and old age come from biological advantages. Size, for one: stretching five meters it has few predators. Living in frigid waters, it has slow growth and low metabolism. “Cold can also activate anti-aging genes that help an animal better fold proteins, get rid of DNA-damaging molecules, and even fight off infections more effectively, extending life span,” the Science magazine article reported. Another bonus, they don’t have to hunt for food and eat every day. A study coauthor hypothesized they might survive on one or two jumbo meals a year.
Previously disparaged as homely, passive and insignificant, the longevous Greenland shark now demands respect. Though maybe not the most appealing role model, the Greenland shark does make an encouraging case for humble living.