Whales are truly fascinating animals with some species known to have several of the longest lifespans known in the animal kingdom.
It’s difficult to estimate the exact age of whales without knowing exactly when they were born, but now scientists can accurately estimate whale lifespan based on a number of factors.
Diet, habitat, geographical location, lifestyle, and level of endangerment all play a role in predicting the age of whales.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at whales’ lifespans and answer a question that often comes up when discussing these gentle giants. How long do whales live?
In essence, whales’ lifespans depend on the species but typically range from anywhere between 20 and 100 years old, with some whales living as long as 200 years old and beyond!
Let’s dive in…
How Long Do Whales Live?
The life expectancy of whales depends largely on a number of factors, including their diet, habitat, threats from predators, lifestyle, and much more.
It’s also difficult to identify the age of a whale as they spend most of the time underwater and we typically require biological material such as hair or teeth to accurately measure age.
That said, most whales live between 20 and 100 years old, and whilst this is a large spectrum, there are around 40 or more different species of whales.
There is an outlier whale species that can live a whopping 200 years old, but this is rare and this type of whale lives in the perfect, secluded environment for life.
We’ll discuss more on that whale shortly.
Average Lifespan Of Different Whale Species
Now that we know that the lifespans of different whales vary greatly, let’s look at the average lifespan of the most popular whale species.
- Humpback whale – has an average lifespan of 80 – 90 years
- Blue whale – has an average lifespan of 80 – 90 years
- Beluga whale – has an average lifespan of 35 to 50 years
- Sperm whale – has an average lifespan of 70 years
- Fin whale – has an average lifespan of 80 – 90 years
- Gray whale – has an average lifespan of 50 to 70 years
- Minke whale – has an average lifespan of 50 years
- Bowhead whale – has an average lifespan of up to 200 years
- Killer whale (although technically a dolphin) has an average lifespan of 50 – 90 years
- Right whale – has an average lifespan of 60 – 70 years
As you can see, the lifespan of different whale species varies drastically, with genetics and environmental factors playing a large role.
For example, whales that live in cold environments such as the Arctic generally have a much longer lifespan as colder temperatures can slow their metabolism and the aging process.
Additionally, areas such as the Arctic as incredibly abundant with food, allowing the whales that live here to feed until their heart’s content.
Whereas whales that don’t live in such abundant waters may struggle to find enough prey and therefore have shorter lifespans.
How Old Is The Oldest Whale?
If you haven’t already guessed, the bowhead whale is the longest-living species of all whales that is capable of living up to 200 years old.
The oldest whale is believed to be a bowhead whale that was found back in 2007 with a stone harpoon embedded in its blubber.
This type of harpoon was used by Inuit hunters in the 1800s, indicating that this specific bowhead whale was at least 211 years old at the time of its death.
Estimates of the whale’s age were based on the size of the harpoon that was found and other factors such as the size of the whale and the thickness of its blubber.
It’s also important to note that measuring the age of whales with accuracy is difficult, so there may well have been other individual whales that have lived longer than this one.
Do Whales Die Of Old Age?
Yes, whales certainly do die of old age, it’s more common in areas of the world that have little human contacts such as Antarctica and the surrounding regions.
That said, as whales live in the ocean their bodies are not easily accessible which means it can be difficult to determine the cause of death for many whale carcasses that are found.
Scientists have been able to determine whether a whale has died of old age based on its size, overall health, and the presence of any injuries that are commonly associated with aging.
Older whales may be more susceptible to disease, infections, and parasites which can weaken their immune systems and lead to their death.
But it’s also important to note that not all whales have the luxury of dying of old age, and many meet their fate prematurely due to human activities and other threats.
Threats Affecting The Lifespan Of Whales
The ocean is a dangerous place even for the largest animals to roam our earth, with so many threats that can affect the lifespan of all whale species.
Many whale species were heavily hunted in the past, and although commercial whaling has largely been banned since the 1980s, it’s still part of some traditions and goes on illegally to this day.
This is a HUGE threat to many whale species as they’re hunted for their blubber and meat to be sold at markets.
It’s a trade that is still booming in countries such as Japan, Russia, Korea, Iceland, and more countries.
Another serious threat that impacts the lifespan of many whales is being entangled in fishing nets accidentally.
Whales are enormous animals that can easily become caught up in fishing nets, and if they are not freed quickly they can drown as a result.
This is a threat that is particularly common in whale species that feed near the surface or in shallow waters.
Oil spills, chemical pollutants, general waste, PCBs, and heavy metals are just a few of the pollutants that end up in the ocean and threaten the lifespan of many whales.
Plastic pollution can also cause physical harm to whales as it’s very easy for them to ingest this waste accidentally, damaging their internal organs.
Climate change is an ongoing threat to whales with ocean temperatures rising, currents changing, and food sources being wiped out by the impacts of climate change.
This can mean whales have to migrate further in order to find food and may not be able to stay where they once called home.
Distribution of prey can affect whales in a number of ways, with their growth and reproductive success being limited.
Whales’ lifespans can vary drastically depending on the species and a number of other factors, with some species living as long as 200 years or more.
Whilst not all whales have this luxury, most live a lifespan of between 20 and 100 years so long as they are not impacted by the many threats they face.
Whales living in colder environments typically live longer as the water temperature naturally slows down the aging process and there is generally more food available to them.
Whereas whales living in tropical waters may not live as long, there are many other factors that play a role when asking how long do whales live.
Reproductive success, diet, lifestyle, predators, human activity, and prey availability all play a big role in the life of a whale.
The good news is that all whale species are now protected by two federal laws, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, so in the near future we should hopefully start to see more whales living out their full potential.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and learn more about whales and how long they live.
See you next time.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!