February 10, 2005
Just how long can a whale live? And how does one find out?
I suppose you could get all scientific-like and measure chemical changes in the eye, or something.
Or, you could try and date the beast by the hundred and twenty year old ivory and stone harpoon tips buried in its blubber.
As Reason at "Fight Aging" remarks, it's "Fascinating stuff"...
In studies that could rewrite biology textbooks and establish whales as the longest-lived mammals on Earth, scientists in Alaska and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla have estimated the ages of three bowhead whales killed by Inupiat Eskimos in northern Alaska at 135 to 172 years. At the time it was killed, a fourth bowhead whale was believed to be a stunning 211 years old, the researchers concluded.
Bowhead whales have been shown to be over two hundred years old by independent dating methods: amino acid racemization in the eye lens, and old stone harpoon heads embedded in the whales. A good introductory article on Bowhead lifespan is archived at: http://www.agelessanimals.org/bowheadwhales.htm
Bowheads are big mammals. In fact they’re really big; they’re the third most massive of the whales. This makes their longevity extremely significant. All multicellular species have the problem of controlling cancer. The chance of a cell mutating into a cancer is proportional to the number of cells times the lifespan of the organism. So humans have more than a hundred thousand times the cancer-control capacity of a mouse. (And mice are really lousy cancer lab animals.) But Bowheads have to have a thousand times better cancer control than humans (five hundred times our weight times twice the lifespan). In the Bowhead, Nature has already proved that a body can be built that is a thousand times less susceptible to cancer than ours. An organism the size of a human being, using some Bowhead genes, might be able to live longer than recorded history.
I think this calls for a Whale Genome Project, stat. Those big boys won't be around forever y'know.
I have to admit I'm a bit floored by all this. Toothed whales have real class, but baleen whales? I've always regarded them as the moral equivalent of cows.
Gigantic, yodeling, seafaring cows, with no legs, but cows nonetheless.
And now this. It keeps a man humble.
posted by Justin on 02.10.05 at 07:05 PM
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