It’s hard to age whales, and it’s usually done by looking at the proportion of right-handed amino acids in the eye-lens proteins, a proportion that increases with age. A more direct estimate, showing the extreme longevity of these leviathans, was just obtained from dissection of a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) killed by Inuits off the coast of Alaska. According to MSNBC, an explosive (but perhaps unexploded) lance tip was found embedded in the whale’s blubber, a tip estimated at more than 100 years old. The whale, then, was estimated to be between 115 and 130 years old. Ironically, it was killed by a more modern version of the explosive lance. (In 1881, Billy the Kid escaped from jail in New Mexico and President Garfield was inaugurated.)
Bowheads have been estimated to live up to 200 years, but this is the most direct evidence to date.
(Caption from MSNBC): This bomb lance fragment, patented in 1879, was removed from the neck of a bowhead whale captured at Barrow, Alaska, in May 2007. The shiny scars are the result of a chain saw cut.
A bowhead. Do we really need to keep killing them?
h/t: Matthew Cobb