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Some Bowhead Whales Alive Today Were Born Before ‘Moby Dick’ Was Written

Alaska Dispatch News

Bowhead whales can live for over 200 years and the oldest of these have the harpoon scars to prove it.

Between 1848 and 1915, Yankee whalers decimated all but 1,000 of these animals, yet in the past 35 years, their population has seen a resurgence to over 14,000 individuals.

Even more interesting is the fact that these amazingly beautiful creatures have a lifespan as long as 200 years or more despite the fact that they have been found with harpoon pins stuck in their thick hides that date back 100 years.

In September 2015, Inupiat hunters in Alaska were butchering the first bowhead kill of the season when they found a projectile ‘bomb’ embedded in its tail with a patent date of 1879.

Before that, Eskimo whalers in Barrow, Alaska found lance fragments in a whale harvested in 2007. The harpoon point in that case had the same 100-year old patent. The finding of these harpoon pins and bombs has settled some of the doubts about how long bowhead whales can live in the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean.

Craig George, biologist for the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management in Barrow was the first to begin the idea of bowhead whales living to the 200-year mark. George said, “We were a little frightened when we first published that,” but added that after collecting all the evidence, “I think it’s time to believe it.”

The whale in the 2007 case was easily estimated to have been between 115 to 130 years old, which is not quite before Moby Dick, published in 1851, but analysis of amino acids in their eye tissue showed more promise as an age approximation.

Five old bowheads, which had their ages estimated with this process, showed to be at the time of their deaths: 91, 135, 159, 172, and an amazing 211 years old. While no one can yet be precise in aging whales, the fact remains that these beautiful animals have survived over-harvesting and better yet, old-age, with some of the other most amazing creatures ever born on earth.


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Some Bowhead Whales Alive Today Were Born Before ‘Moby Dick’ Was Written