Bowhead Whales are by far the oldest living mammals!
There are bowhead whales now alive who were born before Abraham Lincoln, and perhaps George Washington.
It turns out that these endangered whales, which were driven to near extinction by commercial whaling, and which are still harpooned by U.S. and Siberian native communities, are the oldest large-brained creatures yet discovered. This has taken scientists, and pretty much everyone else, by surprise.
The bowhead (Balaena mysticetus) had long been assumed to live to be perhaps 50-60 years old. However, recently-killed bowheads, when carefully examined, have been found to often have ancient harpoon tips lodged in their blubber, and the only way they could have gotten “in there” was in the hands of ancient native harpooners.
This finding spurred research to find out just HOW old these whales may be. Scientist Jeffrey L. Bada and his associates analyzed the ration of 2 mirror forms of aspartic acid in the lenses of bowhead eyes, which changes at a measurable rate over the years. The results on the five males whales tested showed that the YOUNGEST was 90, four ranged in age from 135-180, and one was seemingly over 211 years old when recently harpooned.
That the average age of these whales was over 150, and that even a 200+ year old whale didnt “look” that old, has implications for the biology and conservation of these whales. It also raises the question of just how old a bowhead can get, since the odds are good that the oldest one wasnt among these five. Researchers have speculated mostly off the record that there may be incredibly old whales swimming around the arctic seas, since they dont seem to have any natural lifespan we can yet determine; the deaths we know of are all human-caused.
This underscores how little we really know about whales, and that includes other whale species. If not for the eskimo spearpoints in these whales, and the fact that this was noted by scientists, the analysis of the whales age wouldnt have even been done.
It also is an amazing thing to think about: large-brained, probably self-aware amimals sharing this planet with us, who have a personal memory of events 200 years ago, and perhaps much father back than that. Is turning them into blubber slabs and souvenir items really the best way to treat the oldest intelligent residents of planet earth?