Thanks to a cold environment, which causes a slow metabolism, bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus
) can live for more than 200 years - nearly 3 times longer than the average human, making it the longest-lived mammal.
Bowhead whales can grow 14 to 18 m (46 to 59 ft) in length, and unlike most whales, they lack a dorsal fin
. This thick-bodied species can weigh from 75 to 100 tonnes (82 to 110 US tons). They live entirely in fertile Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, unlike other whales that migrate to low latitude waters to feed or reproduce. The bowhead also has the largest mouth of any animal.
Of course, following around a whale to measure how long it lives is practically impossible. Researchers discovered this amazing feature in 2007, when a 15 m (49 ft) specimen caught off the Alaskan coast was discovered with the head of an explosive harpoon embedded deep under its neck blubber. The 89 mm (3.5 in) arrow-shaped projectile was manufactured in New Bedford, Massachusetts, a major whaling center, around 1890, suggesting the animal may have survived a similar hunt more than a century ago. This whale was estimated to be 211 years old. Other bowhead whales found on the whaling expedition were estimated to be between 135 and 172 years old. This discovery showed the longevity of the bowhead whale is much greater than originally thought.