Mortality and the Longest Living Creatures

From the day we are born, our days are numbered.  We must choose our causes and commit ourselves because we cannot do everything, and we shouldn’t try.  Life expectancy for humans in the US is 78.72 years. That’s approximately 28,733 days, give or take.

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Many of the oldest animals on earth live in the sea.  The oldest living animal on record is Ming the Clam, an edible bivalve mollusk called an “Ocean Quahog”, who clocked in at an amazing 507 years. 507 years ago Henry VIII was the King of England, Europeans had not sullied “the new world” with grass, horses, pigs and smallpox; and China was not yet ruled by the Shang Dynasty.  The unfortunate twist to this story is that scientists killed Ming to determine his age-a common turn of events you’ll notice in this post.    Consider the animals that have been removed from the ocean in the name of our insatiable hunger.   How much longer could Ming have lived? Can that question actually be answered at this time?

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But while Ming was the oldest, he was not in short company.  Scientists have recently discovered the existence of a 400 year old Greenland shark-long thought to live 200 years or more.  These slow moving, deep sea, cold water sharks don’t reach sexual maturity until around 150 years.  However, 28 sharks caught in the past 5 years as unintended bycatch have been examined and dated by measuring radiocarbon in their eyes.  The oldest female’s age was estimated to be approximately 392 years old, plus or minus 120 years.  Even at their youngest estimate, 272 years of age, would make this shark the oldest vertebrate on record.   More likely her age was somewhere in the middle, closer to 400.

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Another long living resident of the sea: the Bowhead whale.  Bowhead whales are recognized to live on average approximately 200 years, in arctic and subarctic waters that lower their body temperatures.  Their numbers were decimated due to whaling, but are recovering due to a fishing moratorium.  Imagine living for 200 years in the sea, witnessing giant squids, and the advent of scuba diving, only to be killed by tiny and greedy people on a boat.

 

Perhaps, like their long living counterparts, the Greenland shark, Bowhead whales could also live to 300 or 400 years, and we haven’t discovered it yet.  Perhaps, this is also a blessing for that 400 year old whale of a possibility-as all the longest living animals have been dead to be dated.  What other ancient animals live in the depths?

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Of course death is the great equalizer-and all of our days are numbered, except perhaps those that have found the secret to immortality. The rest of us will have to use our time wisely-consider choosing a cause and throwing your days behind it. For instance, our 400 year old Greenland Shark may still be alive if not for overfishing and the inevitable bycatch:  consider cutting down or cutting seafood that is not caught responsibly. Use your days wisely!

eternally yours,

merbabe