Bowhead whales are huge freaking whales endowed with the largest mouth of any animal -- they basically just swim around giving the ocean a huge blow job all the time. Not content with breaking one impressive record, it was recently discovered that these whales are pretty good at something else: outliving all of us. And our sons. And our sons' sons.
Seriously, if there's a mammal that lives longer than them, no one's been able to prove it. One was determined to be like 211 years old. Scientists used to think bowhead whales lived 60 or 70 years, but in 2007, some Native Alaskan hunters killed one and found a surprising artifact from another era inside.
Ah, a whale hunt. A great time for the whole family.
The hunters were cleaning up the whale when, embedded in its blubber, they found the head of an explosive harpoon ... from around 1890. This thing had been swimming around with a bomb lance stuck in its shoulder for the last 117 or so years. To put it in perspective, the harpoon was thrown during the Grover Cleveland administration and removed in George W. Bush's second term. Scientists estimated that the whale had actually been born in 1877, 130 years earlier. This guy was a contemporary of Sitting Bull.
If the whale hadn't been shot with a second explosive bomb lance in 2007, it may have lived to be around two centuries old. Another gigantic, ancient, ocean-borne terror is the Greenland Shark, which some experts believe may be even older than that -- based on its growth rate (6 centimeters in 16 years), scientists believe that the 22-feet specimens may be over 200 years old.
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Because the problem with giant sharks was that they just didn't live long enough.
Oh, and these things actually feed on whales. And polar bears, and, somehow, horses (yep, they've found horse remains in their stomachs). Since it lives so deep in the frozen seas of the Arctic Circle, some believe there can actually be bigger (and thus older) specimens roaming around. Biding their time. Waiting for a horse to go scuba diving.
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Clams are another species that sometimes gets bigger as they get older, and they can get pretty fucking big. For instance, in 1934 a native diver in the Philippine Islands was trapped by a monster clam when he tried to reach for an oversized 14-pound pearl; it seemed like a hilarious situation out of a cartoon, except for the part where the clam simply did not let the guy go and he died. But hey, at least they managed to find the guy's body -- considering how long these things live, one of them could conceivably hold your remains in its jaws for almost half of a millennium. Yep, that's how long clams live.
In retrospect, it seemed rather odd that the diver tried to reach the pearl with his penis.
Back in the '30s, the natives said that the homicidal clam had to be around 450 years old and everyone else probably laughed it off. Present day science, however, has confirmed that this estimate was totally possible -- another (normal-sized) clam found in Icelandic waters in 2007 has been determined to be 405 years old, meaning that this thing was kicking around since the time when Shakespeare was writing Hamlet. Believe it or not, there are clams out there that are older than fucking America itself ... and we still steam and eat them by the bucketload.
And these are just the oldest ones we know of -- it's almost certain that there are much, much older ones out there. Their incredibly long lifespan is linked to what scientists describe as a "slowed cell replacement process," but as of yet, they have no idea what makes them age at such a slow rate. They do know that, once these clams reach their sexual maturity, the enzymes in their body (which are linked to growth) remain stable for about 150 goddamned years, which doesn't mean they manage to survive thanks to their horniness, but that's how we're choosing to interpret it anyway.
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That is so hot.
Some scientists think that clams may be the oldest living animal in the planet, but it turns out that there's another species that has them beat by, oh, a few thousand years ...
You may not think of sea sponges as animals, but that's how people who know more than you classify them; they're just very simple ones that happen to look like the stuff you use to wash your dishes. One not particularly sponge-y looking one is the Hexactinellid or glass sponge, which has a rigid skeleton, hence its nickname. We think a better name would be "the fucking Highlanders of the sea," because that's exactly what they are.
Seriously, how long do you think a sea sponge can live? A hundred years? Five hundred? A thousand? Try over 10,000.
And that's even without wearing square pants.
Yeah, glass sponges may not seem very impressive at first glance, but that quickly changes once you find out there are specimens alive today that are older than human civilization -- these things are estimated to live up to 15,000 years, making them the oldest living animals on the planet. They are older than the pyramids or, you know, the concept of humans building stuff, and they're still alive and chilling right now. What's more, scientists think they evolved their current form 700 million freaking years ago, at which point they decided "yep, this is good enough."
One of these guys found in the South China Sea was determined to be 11,000 years old, and scientists used the water inside to find out what water temperatures were like in ancient times. Water isn't the only thing that goes inside of them, though: the spongicolid shrimps like to loiter around inside these sponges, only to find themselves trapped once they grow too big to come out. These shrimp live the rest of their lives trapped inside the fun-house sponge, mating and releasing their unknowing young into a bleak world where their only chance for survival is to also be forever trapped inside a glass house, looking out, but never being free.
Pretty sure there's a metaphor there, but we'll be damned if we can think of one.
For more animas that'll outlive us all, check out 5 Animals That Are Terrifyingly Hard to Kill and 6 Terrifying Creatures That Keep Going After They're Dead.
Further Reading: Looking for an animal even tougher than the ones on this list? Microscopic water bears can survive nuclear blasts and temperatures near absolute zero, because they're the goddamn boss. But death doesn't mean animals have to go away- click here for the creepiest art dead pets have ever been fashioned into. And if that puts you in the mood for inspirational tales of animal survival, click here to read about Roadrunners beating the shit out of rattlesnakes.