The Greenland shark is the longest-lived vertebrate on the planet, a new study says.

The animal, native to the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic, can live to at least 272 years—and possibly to the ripe old age of 500. (Related: "Meet the Animal That Lives for 11,000 Years.")

“We had an expectation that they would be very long-lived animals, but I was surprised that they turned out to be as old as they did,” says study leader Julius Nielsen, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen.

Because of its remote habitat and elusive nature, the giant shark is poorly understood, including how long it lives.

Some research had suggested they grow extremely slowly, less than half an inch (a centimeter) per year, suggesting a life span well beyond those of other vertebrates.

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