Take It Slow, Don’t Have Many Kids and Enjoy Cold Water

Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:

Screenhunter_01_jun_20_1241Eskimo hunters killed a bowhead whale off the coast of Alaska last month and began to chainsaw their way into its blubber. They stopped when the saw hit the tip of an old harpoon lodged deep inside the whale. Historians identified it last week as part of a bomb lance, a harpoon manufactured for only a few years in the late 1800s in New Bedford, Mass. Whalers probably fired it at the bowhead around 1890, when the whale was probably a teenager, and it carried the harpoon for the next 115 years before finally being killed by a modern one.

Whales don’t carry birth certificates, so scientists usually can make only rough estimates of their age by examining protein in the lenses of their billiard-ball-size eyes. The bomb lance is pretty clear proof that this particular bowhead whale lived longer than any human on record. Had the whale escaped the second harpoon, scientists say it might have lived another 80 years. Indeed, the age of another bowhead examined by scientists in 1999 was put at 211 years. It holds the record for the longest-lived vertebrate.

More here.  And in his blog, The Loom, Carl Zimmer adds:

If you want to head for some scientific sources, check out the web site of Linda Partridge, a leading thinker on the evolution of aging at University College London. She’s got lots of pdf’s posted there, such as this 2006 review of the new field of “evo-gero”–evolutionary gerontology. And if you want to know just how long a tree frog can live (22 years!), check out the AnAge Database.