Meet The Whale That Has Over a 200 Year Life Expectancy

The Bowhead whale is the only baleen whale to live in the Arctic and sub-arctic waters. It’s mouth is one third the length of it’s body dubbing it the animal with the largest mouth on Earth! It’s baleen plates are as long as 13.1 feet.

Bowhead Whale – Image Source: Olga Shpak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With an average life span of this species is more than 200 years in age. This species also may have the largest lifespan of any mammal on Earth.

The name Bowhead comes from the shape of this whale’s head. It’s massive triangular skull is used to break though the ice in the arctic order to breathe. Hunters in the area where they live have reported them being able to break through 24 inches of ice!

Bowhead Whale and calf in the Artic Ocean – GPA Photo Archive

Unlike most other whales, the Bowhead whale does not have a dorsal fin on it’s back. The Bowhead whale can be found alone or in a pod no more than 6 whales. They are not known to be very social like other species of whales.

So how are these whales able to live for so long? In biology, it was previously believed that the more cells present in an organism, the greater the chances of mutations. This typically can cause age-related diseases and cancer. Even though the Bowhead whale has thousands and thousands of more cells than other mammals, this species has a much higher resistance to cancer and aging due to it’s genetics.

In 2015, scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom were able to successfully map the Bowhead whale’s genome. In doing so 2 genes were identified that allow for DNA repair which prevents age related disease as well as cancer. The genes are ERCC1 gene and the proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) gene. In addition to those 2 genes, the Bowhead whale has a low metabolic rate compared to other mammals. With the 2 identified genes and the low metabolic rate, scientists believe that this what enabled this whale to reach ages of 200 years old or more.

In 2019, scientists discovered a Bowhead whale that may be as old as 268 years. The whale’s age was documented using amino acids from it’s eye.

It is very possible that some of these whales that are still alive today existed before the United States was even a country.

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