There Could Be Whales Alive Today Who Are Older Than Moby-Dick

By David Wharton | 8 years ago


There are a lot of things in nature that are amazing, but which are also easy to take for granted. Sometimes it takes a bit of perspective to throw that wonder into sharp relief and remind us just how incredible our little blue marble is. Case in point: if I told you that bowhead whales can live for over 200 years, that’s the sort of factoid that would likely elicit a genuine “Huh. Wow.” before you moved on to the next story. The simple fact gains a bit of luster, however, when you consider that, if the titular white whale was real — and had been a bowhead — when Herman Melville wrote his book in 1851, he could still be swimming the seas today.

That intriguing bit of perspective comes courtesy of the Alaska Dispatch, by way of a feature on the recovering population of bowhead whales near Alaska’s North Slope. Craig George, of the North Slope Borough, began counting bowhead numbers way back in 1978, tallying their numbers during the months of April through June. In that time, the observed bowhead population has grown from 1,200 in 1978 to 3,400 in 2011. Those are just the ones George has spotted, mind you. Using those numbers, he estimates there could be around 15,000 of the whales cruising through Alaska’s icy waters. In a time when news about animals often involves their perils of extinction thanks to shifting climates or general human dickery, it’s nice to hear a story about a species that’s flourishing.

The reference to Moby-Dick is no idle “calendar of the day” observation; the bowhead population had suffered heavily from whaling during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some of the lucky older whales still alive could actually bear the scars of harpoons thrown by men long since dead.

It’s a shame that humpbacks typically live a comparatively fleeting 50 years or so…I was already dreaming up Moby-Dick/Star Trek IV mash-up fan fic.

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