Top 10 Longest Living Animals & Sea Creatures

Aquatic Answers: Are Stingrays Sharks?

During our whale-watching excursions, children and adults alike enjoy asking our Aquarium of the Pacific educators about the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. One of our favorite questions is, “What’s the longest living animal, and does it reside in the ocean?”

Did you know the ocean holds some of Earth’s longest living animals? In this blog post, we’ll share information about the oldest sea creature on Earth and introduce you to other animals with impressive lifespans. The Pacific Ocean is teeming with marine mammals, fish, and creatures such as turtles, jellyfish, squid, and octopus—do any of these make the list? The only way to find out is to begin our countdown!

10: The Albatross: 70 Years or More

In a National Geographic article published in 2021, researchers were celebrating Wisdom. This albatross, they could confirm, was turning at least 70 that year, making her the oldest-known wild bird in history. Banded in 1956, Wisdom is said to have hatched nearly 40 chicks! Their article points out that a researcher and his team were banding Laysan albatross chicks to gather data about their remarkable lifespans. “The challenge, he says, is albatross are so long-lived that they can easily outlast their researchers.”

  1. Geoduck: Approximately 160 Years

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife describes the geoduck as “the most impressive clam in the Pacific Northwest.” They write, “The world’s largest burrowing clams are extremely abundant in the inland waters of Puget Sound, British Columbia, and Alaska, where the subtidal populations support important commercial fisheries.” Regarded as a delicacy in China, geoduck grow rapidly in their early years, but after their growth spurt ends, they spend most of their energy maintaining their massive size.

  1. Red Sea Urchin: Between 50-200 Years, Depending on Location

Sea urchins belong to a group of spiny-skinned creatures called echinoderms. Researchers originally thought that red sea urchins lived between 7-10 years, but according to our friends at the Aquarium of the Pacific, “More recent studies have shown that they live much longer and that age depends on geographic location. Southern California red sea urchins can live to be about 50 years old, whereas those in British Columbia, Canada, can reach more than 100 years. These same studies determined that Canadian urchins over 19 cm (7.5 in) in diameter were probably about 200 years old!”

  1. Scarlet Koi Fish: Approximately 225 Years

You might be surprised that the scarlet koi fish has made our “longest living animals” list. While the average lifespan of a scarlet koi fish is about 30 years, we would be remiss to overlook that a koi fish in Japan is said to have lived 226 years old. Born in 1751 in the middle of the Tokugawa era, Hanako passed away on July 7, 1977. National Geographic notes that “fish scales can be read like tree rings, which is how the estimate would have come about.” A prized pet in Asia, the highest-quality koi can cost thousands of dollars—and those who purchase these ornamental pets do so with the understanding that these fish will be around for the long run.

  1. Giant Tortoise: Approximately 225 Years Old

The oldest tortoise to ever live was a male tortoise named Adwaita, who was thought to be approximately 225 years old when he passed away in 2006 at Alipore Zoological Garden in Kolkata, India. Other giant tortoises have made headlines throughout the years, including Harriet, who was said to have been discovered by Charles Darwin himself! Then there’s Lonesome George, who passed away in 2012; he was the last of the species Chelonoidis abingdonii and was estimated to be over 100 years old. An article published by YaleNews suggests that with his death came various studies focused on why giant tortoises can live so long. The article states, “Lonesome George’s species may have died with him in 2012, but he and other giant tortoises of the Galapagos are still providing genetic clues to individual longevity . . . genetic analysis of DNA from Lonesome George and samples from other giant tortoises of the Galapagos found they possessed several gene variants linked to DNA repair, immune response, and cancer suppression not possessed by shorter-lived vertebrates.”

  1. Bowhead Whale: Approximately 260 Years

OpenMind, a non-profit project run by BBVA to disseminate knowledge relating to the fields of science, technology, humanities, and economics, writes that the bowhead whale holds the record for the longest-living mammal. Their webpage detailing the planet’s longest living animals states, “It was already known that it could live for a century, but a more detailed study found much older specimens, one of which lived to be 211 years old. An analysis of the genome of this species suggested that its longevity could be as high as 268 years.” Regarding the longevity of the second largest mammal on the planet . . . well, it might have a lot to do with their slow metabolisms and the cold waters in which they reside. Researchers also have noted that bowhead whales “appear to resist diseases more typically associated with aging, such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, suggesting possible adaptations in their genes that counteract the effects of aging and may provide clues to increasing human longevity.” 

  1. Greenland Shark: Between 250-520 Years

The Greenland Shark’s name gives away where it lives. BBC’s Science Focus webpage writes that this shark is the longest-living shark species on planet Earth, but it’s difficult to date these sharks. Why? “Most other sharks have growth bands that appear on their fin spines like a tree has growth rings. However, a Greenland shark has no hard tissue and does not grow such bands. Carbon dating is the only way to correctly estimate this shark’s age, which is not an especially accurate measurement. Using this process, scientists managed to date one female between 252 and 512 years old.” Like the bowhead whale, researchers believe that the cold waters of Greenland—plus the shark’s naturally slow metabolism—contribute to its being ranked one of the longest-living animals on the planet.

  1. Ocean Quahog: Approximately 510 Years Old

One of the longest living animals on Earth was a mollusk that reached the age of 507 years old. It’s quite possible that this ocean quahog could have lived longer; ScienceNordic writes that its “life came to an abrupt end in 2006 when the British researchers – unaware of the animal’s impressive age – froze the mollusk onboard the ship. After its death, the mollusk was named Ming – after the Chinese Ming dynasty, which was in power when the animal was born.”

NOAA Fisheries writes that the ocean quahog is distributed from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras, NC. These clams have thick, oval-shaped, dark gray, brown shells with growth rings. As bivalve mollusks, they have two hinged shells that enclose their body. They also write, “Ocean quahogs are among the longest-lived marine organisms in the world. Off the U.S. East Coast, where the fishery takes place, ocean quahogs can live for at least 200 years.” One reason why they might live so long? They can burrow in the sandy ocean floor and completely close their shells, protecting them from predators.

  1. Sponges & Corals: Thousands (and Thousands) of Years!

Deep-sea corals and sponges are some of the oldest animals on Earth, even though they grow tremendously slowly (just a few millimeters each year). According to Oceana,

“Species such as red coral can live up to 500 years, but they’re not the only immobile marine creature that can live an extremely long time. Monorhaphis chuni, a species of sponge that can live more than 2,000 meters under the sea, can live for 11,000 years.” Sponges and corals maintain a large arsenal of stem cells contributing to their jaw-dropping longevity. A study conducted by UC Davis College of Biological Sciences notes, “Unlike the stem cells of an adult human, the stem cells of an adult Hydra—a small freshwater invertebrate related to jellyfish and corals—are in a constant state of renewal, bestowing it with amazing regenerative capabilities and nearly biological immortality. Around 100,000 cells make up the Hydra body; amazingly, these cells renew every 20 days thanks to Hydra’s bottomless well of stem cells.”

  1. The Immortal Jellyfish: The Name Says It All . . .

And the award for the oldest sea creature goes to: the immortal jellyfish! We know, we know—the name gives it away, but it’s a name that’s well-deserved. Rather than die of old age, these jellyfish essentially rewind their life cycle. American Museum of Natural History writes, “In a process that looks remarkably like immortality, the born-again polyp colony eventually buds and releases medusae genetically identical to the injured adult. The cellular mechanism behind it—a rare process known as transdifferentiation—is fascinating to scientists for its potential medical applications. By undergoing transdifferentiation, an adult cell that is specialized for a particular tissue can become an entirely different type of specialized cell. It’s an efficient way of cell recycling and an important area of study in stem cell research that could help scientists replace cells damaged by disease.” According to London’s Natural History Museum, these spectacular jellyfish are excellent hitchhikers, and they are found in oceans throughout the world.

Learn More During a Cruise with Harbor Breeze!

So, what’s the longest living animal? Now you know! We hope you enjoyed learning about the living animals on Earth. If you’re interested in learning more and joining us for an affordable, relaxing cruise on the Pacific Ocean, please join us! Tickets for our cruises can be purchased online or by calling us at 562-983-6880. At Harbor Breeze Cruises, we prioritize your comfort and safety and do everything we can to give you a memorable experience on the water in beautiful southern California. 

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