Featured Image Credit: Kate Stafford via Wikipedia
Biologists have long been searching for answers when it comes to the age of whales. But they got lucky when a 50-ton bowhead whale was found in Alaska with fragments of a 19th-century harpoon lodged in a shoulder bone.
It’s quite a clue for biologists. The weapon was used more than a century ago by whalers from New Bedford, Massachusetts. This allowed researchers to estimate the bowhead whale to be at least 115 years old and supports their belief that bowhead whales are one of the longest-living mammals on earth, surviving up to 120 years.
John Bockstoce, the whaling historian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum who analyzed the fragments, said: “It’s pretty rare that you get the chance to date the age of a whale.”
A biologist in Alaska was the one who noticed the fragments as they were being pulled from the whale’s blubber by the Eskimos that killed the whale.
The biologist then sent them to Bockstoce, who identified them as part of an exploding lance made in New Bedford in the late 1800s. This happens to be the same time as when the city was known as the world’s whaling capital. When the hunters would spear the whale with this weapon, it would detonate once inside. Bockstoce and his colleagues believe the whale was shot sometime between 1885 and 1895.
The harpoon fragment is currently on display at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska.