Humans have a fascination with numbers, especially large numbers. Hell, this website has largely been patterned around large things, tall things, old things… That’s a big one. People are fascinated with how long things live. Spurred on by the fear surrounding our own mortality, we seek out other living things that have proven to be exceptionally long lived.
One interesting thing I discovered while doing research for this entry is how often longevity records are questioned. Why lie about how long some creature lived, anyway? It’s not like you get some sort of special reward for finding a really old animal, outside maybe a couple paragraphs in National Geographic. Personally I’d be ripped to find out that an animal with a brain one-third the size of mine somehow managed to live for two centuries.
Whatever the reason may be, we’re always looking for the oldest something. I could have blown your mind with the oldest living sea sponge (they’re the longest living, well, anything, really) or the oldest living tree(oh yeah, I already did.) Instead of going to extremes, I decided to pick out the one land creature and the one waterborne creature that are both the longest lived and actually have spines and the ability to move.
The mighty ocean brings us the Bowhead whale. These 60-plus foot long, 75-ton behemoths hang out mostly in arctic and sub-arctic waters. They’re absolute brutes, lacking a dorsal fin, but having a thick humped back. They use their strength and size to bust through surface ice in order to breathe. Despite their brutish appearance and the fact that they have the largest mouth of any animal period(your sister’s mouth not withstanding,) they feed mainly on tiny 1 millimeter sea life.
Those teeny critters they eat must be low-fat or something, because Bowheads are incredibly long-lived… probably. The most common measure of age used for captured whales have been the age of harpoons and spearheads lodged in them. I told you they’re tough! The toughest, and possibly oldest, had the head of a harpoon embedded in its neck when it was caught in 2007. That harpoon dated to 1890. This and other research shows this species of whale could live to be 150 to 200 years old.
It’s usually pretty hard to surpass sea creatures for anything if you are a land animal, but the Aldabra Giant Tortoise has this game locked up. They come appropriately enough from the Aldabra atoll in the Indian ocean. Their exceptionally long necks and size make them excellent foragers. These immense turtles average over three feet long and around 250 pounds.
The real surprise about these tortoises is that they are actually pretty agile. They’ve been known to support themselves on their hind legs in a bid to reach foliage on a tree. They can also manage a half-run when threatened or excited and don’t appear concerned with taking risks. This led one biologist to refer to the Aldabras as the “ninjas” of the turtle world. Large ninja turtles… huh. That could make for a good kids’ show.
Okay, so how far can these large, mutant-like ninja turtles make it? Well again it can be difficult to verify ages, seeing how these turtles tend to seriously outlive their handlers. The Aldabra believed to be the oldest lived to a ripe old age of 255. Adwaita was believed to have been born circa 1750. Jonathan the tortoise is now believed to be the oldest living turtle, aged 182 and still going strong. You should be so lucky.