Ming – A 507 Year Old Organism Killed By Scientists

By Anupum Pant

A few years before Leonardo da Vinci started painting the Mona Lisa, somewhere deep in the ocean, in the year 1499, a clam was born. When it stepped into this world, it was also the period of Ming Dynasty in China, so several years later the clam was named ‘Ming’ (Scientific name: Arctica islandica) by scientists. Ming was the 507 year old organism that unfortunately got killed.

Like crocodiles, clams are also one of those biologically immortal organisms. This one lived on for 507 years till the year 2006, when it was discovered by a group of researchers in deep oceans. Unaware of its age, researchers stored it like all the other 200 clams they had gathered, using refrigeration, which killed it (and the others). It was an unfortunate accident; definitely not intended in any way.

World record: Ming the clam was recorded as the oldest individual animal ever discovered. The record mentions “Individual” because often colonies are recorded to live for really long times. By those measures, this clam would have stood nowhere in comparison. For example the deep-sea black and gold corals 2700 years old have been found. But, scientists are pretty sure that there are older individual organisms [than Ming] still living out there, waiting to be discovered.

Why do they live so long?

Their genes, extremely slow oxygen intake and very slow metabolism are some of the known factors that enable these clams to live for centuries. Their age is measured accurately by using Radiocarbon dating.

The Rings: But more importantly these clams have rings on their shells. These rings are like our fingerprints, unique for each clam. The number of rings on the shell also gives a pretty accurate estimate of their ages; like rings on a tree stump help us to find the age of a tree. Initially, a few researchers, using these rings, wrongly estimated the age of Ming to be around 400 years. It was corrected later by others.

The oxygen isotopes present on the rings can be detected too. These measurements give scientists a useful insight about the climate changes that must have happened over the years.

Author’s Note: This is the 50th post by me here which marks a 50 day anniversary. By now, I’ve become a happy blogger with more than 12K views already. Thanks all. Do take some time to check out the archives.

Sharks Are Not So Bad After All

By Anupum Pant

Sharks have been on earth for millions of years more than we have been here. Also, they haven’t changed much since a long time. The kind of sharks we see today, were the same sharks that existed 350 million years ago.

That means, modern sharks have lived happily for millions of years without eating humans. Even today, they aren’t very keen on killing us for food. They simply aren’t designed (or haven’t evolved) to do that. Humans were never a part of their normal diet. Instead, they normally feed on small fish. While a few other species of sharks may eat seals, sea lions and other mammals too. In fact, they can go on for months without food.

Funny as it may sound, sharks are scared of humans. When a shark sees a human in water, it gets confused and scared. It goes near to check,  and this usually results in an accidental bite. They don’t kill humans out of aggression. With 15 rows of razor sharp teeth on each jaw, even their gentle bites may kill a person. About only 20 out of 300 species of sharks are reported to have been involved in accidents with human beings.  About 100 such accidents occur every year.

Not being insensitive about human deaths: Can you estimate how many people do sharks kill every year? The answer is 10. Ten people, on an average are killed by shark bites every year. That is about 1/15 th of number of people killed by coconuts every year*
*Note: “150 people are killed by coconuts every year”, is a popular urban legend. The coconut death figure is a crude estimate or just a figure pulled out of thin air.

Nevertheless, the number of people killed by sharks every year is very very less (again, even a single human death isn’t really ‘less’). I’d rather not use statistics to prove my point. [image]

Why are sharks scared of us? … Why shouldn’t they be?
We kill about 100 million sharks every year. That is such a huge number when compared to number of people sharks kill every year. Again, statistics could be deceiving here. But we do get an idea. There is a massive difference in the number.
Why? Humans catch sharks for their meat, internal organs and skin,  to make products such as shark fin soup, lubricants, and leather etc. Some times, fins are cut and live sharks are thrown back into the sea, crippled. This eventually kills them due to excessive bleeding or other obvious reasons.

It is ironically that we move into their natural habitat and in turn blame sharks for destroying our boats, surf boards. Moreover, we are shocked to hear about reports of shark attacks on humans. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? We should stop looking at sharks as if they are the monsters; we are. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you should risk your life by going in shark waters to give it a high-five.

Random Science Fact:  

Only 14% of the Earth’s species are known to us. 75% of all the species on Earth will be gone within the next 300 years. Think about those species which will go extinct while we are here, and we’ll never know about them.