Bowhead Whales Live Over 200 Years

ByABC News
December 20, 2000, 11:49 AM

S A N   J O S E, Calif., Dec. 20 -- Evidence of ancient harpooning methodscombined with modern scientific research shows that a bowhead whalecan live as long as 200 years and is possibly the oldest mammal onEarth.

Three bowhead whales killed by Inupiat Eskimos in northernAlaska were estimated to be 135 to 172 years, while a fourthbowhead was believed to be 211 years old, researchers concluded.

This is just incredibly interesting, Jeffrey Bada, a marinechemistry professor at the Scripps Institution in San Diego, toldThe San Jose Mercury News. Maybe what were looking at are thesurvivors, the males who escaped hunting all those years.

Age Determined From Eyes

Scientists figured out the whales ages by studying changes inamino acids in the lenses of the eyes. The age estimates werebolstered by native Alaskan Inupiat hunters in Barrow and othervillages along the frozen north coast of Alaska who found sixancient harpoon points in the blubber of freshly killed bowheadwhales since 1981.

Modern harpoon points are made of steel but the ones found inthe bowhead were made of ivory and stone, which havent been usedsince the 1880s.

Bowhead whales, which live in the Beaufort and Bering seasbetween Russia and Alaska, are a species of baleen whale, which eatby using baleen bristles to filter krill and fish from the oceanfor food.

Most whales are believed to live between 80 to 100 years.Previously, the oldest whales were believed to be southernhemisphere blue and fin whales, which can live up to 114 years.

If Bada and colleagues at the University of Alaska find thatbowhead can live 150 years or more, the whale would be oldestmammal on the planet.

This just about doubles what everybody thought was thelongevity of a large whale, Steven Webster, senior marinebiologist and a co-founder of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told thenewspaper in a story published Tuesday.

Its pretty astounding that whales swimming around out therenow could have been swimming around during the Battle of Gettysburgwhen Lincoln was president, Webster said.