Circle Of Life: Do Whales Die Of Old Age?

do whales die of old age

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Whales can be found in every ocean around the world, from the icy waters of the Arctic and Antarctic to the warm tropical waters of California.

These ocean giants have captivated humans for centuries with their incredible intelligence, enormous size, and fascinating behaviors.

The average lifespan for most whale species is between 20 and 100 years, but despite their reputation for longevity, many people are left wondering. Do whales die of old age?

To answer this question, we need to delve deeper into the various factors that can affect whales’ lifespans and learn more about the threats they face.

So let’s dive in and explore what happens to whales when they reach old age.

Do Whales Die Of Old Age?

YES, whales do die of old age. However, it’s becoming more and more of a rarity due to the number of threats these marine giants face.

The lifespan of whales varies greatly depending on a number of factors including species, prey availability, and environmental factors.

Most whales live for between 20 and 100 years, but there are some outliers such as the Cuvier’s beaked whale that can live up to 222 years.

do whales die of old age
Image by Cyrille Humbert

Vessel strikes, pollution, and entanglement are all major threats to whales and can cut their lifespan short and stop them from reproducing.

Whales already have a low reproductive rate, which is why conservation efforts for these majestic animals are increasing to help populations stabilize and grow.

But despite the many threats that these animals face, many whales still manage to live long and healthy lives in the wild and eventually die of natural causes.

What Happens To Whales When They Get Old?

When whales start to reach old age and near the end of their natural lifespans, they face many of the same physiological challenges that other mammals do.

This could mean a decrease in their physical activities which could cause them difficulty in catching prey, as well as slower swimming speeds and becoming less active in general.

Older whales may also experience health issues such as arthritis, cataracts, and infections that cause their bodies to deteriorate.

Whales that live in pods may experience social changes within their pod, which could mean they lose dominance or become displaced by younger whales.

When whales reach their final minutes, they may struggle to make it to the surface to breathe which ultimately causes them to drown and meet their fate.

If whales do make it to this point, they’ve generally lived to their fullest potential and likely produced many offsprings.

Is It Common For Whales To Die Of Old Age?

It is quite common for whales to die of old age, but it largely depends on the species and their environment as to how long they will live.

Whales have evolved over millions of years to live in the ocean, and they’ve done an excellent job at learning how to navigate the many threats and hazards they face.

This is why many whales can make it to old age, for example, bowhead whales are capable of living up to 200 years old or more.

That said, other species face a number of threats from human activities that cut their life short.

In these cases, it’s much less common for whales to die of old age as many individuals may not have the luxury to live until they reach old age.

Do Whales Drown When They Get Too Old?

Yes, many whales do drown when they get too old as they become physically too weak to make it to the surface to breathe.

Whales are marine mammals which means they are required to come to the surface every once in a while to breathe.

If they become too old, they may be too weak to make it to the surface, meaning they breathe in water through their blowhole which causes them to drown.

However, it’s also likely for old whales to get caught in fishing nets or hit by vessels which can cause them to die prematurely.

Old whales that get entangled in nets have little chance of escape which can cause them to drown very quickly.

Whales that are old may also become disoriented and accidentally venture into shallow waters and beach themselves.

If this happens, there’s very little chance the whale will have the strength to make it back out to the ocean and may die.

How Do Whales Die Naturally?

Whales can die naturally in a number of ways which include predation, disease, old age, and more.

Lack of prey and changes in water temperature can also cause whales to die, among the many other environmental factors that can impact whales.

When whales die, their bodies typically sink to the ocean floor where they will become a banquet and valuable food source for many organisms in the area.

do whales die of old age
Image by Alessandro Valli

Over time, bacteria and other decomposes break down the whale which can take years or even decades, depending on the size of the whale.

The death of a whale can have a significant impact on the greater pod as these are highly social animals that are emotionally intelligent and feel the death of loved ones.

They build strong bonds with their pod members and the loss of a whale can disrupt social dynamics and even the health of other whales.

Wrapping Up

In summary, YES, whales do die of old age. That said, there are a number of other factors that can cause whales to die prematurely.

Whilst the lifespan of whales can vary greatly depending on species and other factors, many whales do make it to old age and ultimately die of natural causes.

Just like other mammals, as whales age, they begin to slowly deteriorate which can have a number of effects on their physical activity and overall health.

The best a whale can hope for is to reach old age and have produced many calves throughout its lifetime.

This helps contribute to the overall population of the species and keeps the lifecycle of the species going.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today and learn more about how and why whales die of old age.

Catch you in the next one!