Several months ago, while traveling along Canada’s Atlantic seacoast, I wrote an article that contained some interesting trivia about how long lobsters can live. Not the one on my plate which was young and tasty but the really big ones like Louie the Lobster.
Louie is a 22lb monster that was ceremoniously released back into the ocean after living for many years in a tank in Pete’s Clam Bar in Hempstead, Long Island. Louis was estimated to be 132 years old, but what was really interesting was that he can continue to live much longer.
Bob Bayer of Maine’s Lobster Institute says “He’ll be just fine. There aren’t many predators who want to eat a big old lobster like that” and interestingly the really big lobsters show no sign of aging. In theory if the lobster never ran out of food, or ran afoul of a predator, it might be able to live forever.
And Louie was not the oldest or biggest lobster by far. That record goes to a behemoth, 44.3 pounder found off Nova Scotia in 1977.
So, the story of Louie the Lobster got me curious about how many years other animals can collect.
The Oldest Animals Wandering the Land
A few years ago, I visited the giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands, the world’s largest tortoise species that can weigh in at almost a 1000 lbs. One individual, Harriet, that was kept in captivity in Australia, lived at least 170 years before her death in 2006.
Currently at 183 years, the oldest land animal is Jonathan, an Aldabra giant tortoise (native to Aldabra atoll in the Seychelles) living at the governor’s mansion on St. Helena in the South Atlantic. (photo – Tom Peschak, Nat Geo)
Other long-lived species might surprise you. Did you know that flamingos can live into their 80’s and the albatross, the Siberian white crane and some parrots in captivity, all come close to sharing that avian age record. They are all large birds, so size seems to be key. (photo – Greater 83 year old flamingo Nicole Miller, Adelaide Zoo)
Ocean Oldies in the Depths!
We have already found out how long lobsters can live, but some deep-sea fish like the orange roughy can live to a ripe old age of 175 years.
Bowhead whales appear to set the record for marine mammals at over 200 years. The chilly waters that they prefer seem to aid in their longevity by lowering their body temperature and slowing their metabolism. Incidentally according to NOAA the bowhead also has the largest mouth of any marine mammal. (photo – Paul Nicklen, National Geographic)
Greenland Sharks are really old!
Greenland sharks, prefer the deep, cold waters of the North Atlantic where they can live in splendid isolation for possibly as long as 500 years, thus making them the world’s longest-lived vertebrate.
“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 Julius Nielsen, a University of Copenhagen biologist.
Their research, recently published in the journal Science suggests that the Greenland shark’s growth is extremely slow, less than ½ inch annually.
The largest shark studied was 16.5 feet long and was estimated to be over 390 years of age and possibly as old as 500 years. The female sharks do not appear to reach sexual maturity before 150 years of age. To learn how they carbon dated the sharks to determine their age, read National Geographic. (photo – Franco Banfi, Alamy)
The cold ocean waters harbor many a marine methuselah Ming, who died at the age of 507 was a quahog clam found in Icelandic waters. The average life-span of the quahog is about 225 years.
Cold Waters are Home to Many Marine Methuselahs!
Greenland sharks and quahog clams are babes when compared to sponges. That’s right sponges, don’t forget that sponges are animals and the longevity of sponge species varies widely, however those that live in the deepest waters can live thousands of years. (photo – Jad Davenport, National Geographic)
Research published in the journal Aging Research Reviews describes a Monorhaphis chuni sponge that is estimated to be a remarkable 11,000 years old.
The title of the journal review describing the 11,000 year old sponge, was aptly named: “Aging and longevity in the simplest animals and quest for immortality.”
Immortality In the Sea!
And that brings us to the Immortal Jellyfish, the Turritopsis, dohrnii. Sometimes called the Benjamin Button jellyfish, it is a small Mediterranean jellyfish (also found in Japanese waters) discovered in the 1880’s which may never truly die. Instead of dying, it recycles itself, “aging” backwards from adulthood into an immature polyp stage again and again. The T. dohrnii is the only known animal capable of reverting completely from a sexually mature stage back into a sexually immature colonial stage.
Maybe studying the 11,000 year old sponge and the immortal jellyfish is the closest we mere mortals can come to experiencing immortality. Read the original story in the Huffington Post (republished from National Geographic by Liz Langley).
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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