Based on research and recent proof from a century-old harpoon, scientists believe the bowhead whale can live to be more than 200 years old. Living in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding waters, the bowhead whale’s cold environment helps lower the animal’s body temperature and metabolism.
Though bowhead whales may prove to be the longest-living mammals, they are not the oldest animals on the planet. In 2016, a team of researchers revealed that the greenland shark, which also lives in the frigid waters of the Arctic and nearby waters, could live to be more than 500 years old. One average greenland shark that was radiocarbon tested proved to be at least 272 years old and could be as old as 512 years old.
While it took researchers radiocarbon testing to prove the greenland shark’s age, the bowhead whale’s ability to live a long life was proven in 2007 when a bowhead whale was caught with a 130-year-old explosive harpoon still embedded in its blubber. The antique harpoon was designed to embed and explode seconds after impact, but never did. Research connected the 5-inch (13 cm) explosive to a weapons manufacturer in New England in 1880. The Victorian Era harpooners did not attack young whales which meant that in 1880 the bowhead whale was already an adult. Even if the whale was only 3 or years old at the time of being harpooned, it would make the whale at least 130 years old in 2007.