One Of The Worlds Longest-Lived Animals, The Greenland Shark, Finally Gets Protection!

Nov 18, 2022by Olivia Harper - F&F

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) has now prohibited the retention of Greenland sharks, the world’s longest-living vertebrate, in international waters! Continue reading to learn about this fascinating creature.

Greenland SharkGreenland Shark

Image: National Geographic

Meet The Greenland Shark: The World’s Longest-Living Vertebrate! 

Greenland sharks, living in the cold, deep waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans, are one of the largest sharks in the world — they can grow up to seven meters in length!

When looking at Greenland sharks, everything about them is super duper slow. Their scientific name, Somniosus microcephalus, roughly translates to “sleepy small-head”! They swim slowly, grow slowly, and reach maturity slowly. In fact, when it comes to their maturity rate, they really take their sweet time!

Scientists believe they don’t start reproducing until they’re about 150 years old — and that they can live anywhere from 270 to 500 years, making them the longest-living known vertebrate on the planet. How crazy is that?!

Retained Greenland SharkRetained Greenland Shark

Image: Julius Nielsen

Retention Of Greenland Sharks In International Waters Is Now Prohibited!

The incredibly unique longevity of Greenland sharks, has sadly been their downfall — making the species particularly vulnerable to overfishing. It’s estimated that about 3,500 individuals are accidentally caught as bycatch by demersal trawling (also called bottom trawling), longlines, and gill nets each year according to the IUCN, the global wildlife conservation authority.

This has contributed to a decline of Greenland sharks of about 60% in the past 420 years. In 2020, the Greenland shark’s conservation status on the IUCN Red List worsened from near threatened to vulnerable. But the great news is: the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) made a historic decision: they’ve prohibited the retention of Greenland sharks in international waters!

Greenland SharkGreenland Shark

Image: Julius Nielsen

This New Conservation Rule Will Hopefully Build Momentum For More Measures!

In 2018, NAFO’s Scientific Council suggested a ban on retaining Greenland sharks. But at the time, only the U.S. and the EU adopted partial bans. Now, this new rule will prohibit intentional fishing or the keeping of Greenland sharks accidentally caught as bycatch!

Sonja Fordham, president of Washington, D.C.-based Shark Advocates International, said “It was a long time coming, but not a long time in the life of a Greenland shark, we were glad that it finally went through, and it’s the first for that kind of protection for NAFO.”

There is still a lot to learn about this mysterious, everlasting animal, yet this is a major breakthrough for the protection of the shark and will hopefully build momentum for more conservation measures!

This is some really fantastic news about the Greenland shark! With the implantation of this new rule, we hope to see the population of the elusive species increase in the near future. Had you ever heard about the Greenland shark before?

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