Scientists recently revealed that one of the rarest fish on the planet, the coelacanth, actually lives for well over 100 years. They used a new scale analysis method to determine the age of these remarkable-looking and mysterious creatures.
Impressive as it is for a fish to reach such a landmark age, it’s not alone in having a lot of candles on its birthday cake each year – and some have considerably more than the coelacanth.
Here we take a look at the other contenders for the title of longest-living fish on the planet…
The ultimate predatory fishes, many sharks have impressive lifespans, with porbeagles – which are found off UK shores – known to reach 60 or 70 years of age.
But that pales into insignificance alongside the Greenland shark, which lives to well over 200 years, sometimes much longer. A study published in 2016 found that some individuals could in fact clock up 500 years or more, and that females don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 100-150 years old!
These heavy-set, primeval-looking creatures can grow to more than 20ft and are slow swimmers (average of less than 1mph) that feed mainly by scavenging on the ocean floor in the North Atlantic and Arctic regions where they are most common. They have been caught around the UK, too, but are not really a viable target for anglers.
Interestingly, a Greenland shark’s skin is poisonous to humans when consumed raw, but becomes edible when the meat has been dried. No Greenland shark sushi, then…
Carp come in many shapes and sizes, and all have impressive longevity when compared to other coarse species.
But top of the tree are koi, the much-loved pond and aquarium dwellers, and there have been several cases of these fish living up to and beyond 200 years!
Perhaps the most famous example was the Japanese koi ‘Hanako’. When the colourful creature finally shuffled off its mortal coil in 1977, scientists studied the growth rings on Hanako’s scales, revealing that she was in fact 226 years old… meaning she was alive a full decade before Admiral Nelson emerged victorious from the Battle of Trafalgar!
Another relic left over from the dinosaur age, sturgeon are large, slow-growing, late-maturing fish – making them the perfect candidates for a long life!
There are more than two dozen species in the sturgeon family, some of which – particularly those in the big rivers of Canada and North America – grow to over 1,000lb. They all enjoy a pretty long innings compared to other fish. This is just as well, as many sturgeon populations around the world are threatened with extinction due to overfishing, poaching and habitat destruction.
While the average lifespan of male sturgeon is around 50-60 years, the females – which spawn once every three or four years – can reach three times that age.
Among the most fascinating of all fish species, as well as being pretty long in the tooth, European eels begin their lives 6,000km away in the Sargasso Sea, south of Bermuda, before drifting vast distances on the Gulf Stream to reach our shores, evading predators and commercial fishermen alike for the length of their perilous three-year journey.
After inhabiting our lakes, streams, rivers and ponds, those fortunate to eventually reach maturity then make their way back to their birthplace, where soon after spawning they die.
They are slow-growing, slow-maturing creatures, and the oldest recorded European eel reached 84 years of age, but some of the longfin eels found in Australia and New Zealand – which can grow to over 30lb – have comfortably breached the 100 year barrier.
This slightly weird-looking fish, which is also known in some parts of the world as the Atlantic roughy, deep sea perch or slimehead, is a predatory species that lives on deep underwater rocky outcrops or ‘seamounts’ (underwater mountains) across the world. It is one of the longest-living marine fish, commonly topping 100 years, with the oldest recorded example attaining the age of 160!
The main UK populations lie in the Rockall Trough, off to the west of the country, and they can reach up to 10lb in weight and 2ft long.
THE REAL SURVIVORS…
If you think that 200 years of age for a Greenland shark is impressive, they have nothing on the large deep-sea sponges that can be found in the world’s oceans, some of which can clock up over 2,000 years – meaning they’ve been around since the Romans!
One study in a scientific journal claimed that a deep-sea sponge of the species Monorhaphis chuni was found to be 11,000 years old!
Another global old-timer is the quahog clam, native to North and Central America. Some of these have been calculated to be more than 400 years old – meaning that they were around since before the start of the English Civil War!
But the top prize for sheer longevity goes to Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as the immortal jellyfish. After starting their life as larvae, they settle on the sea floor and become what’s known as ‘static polyps’ before developing into full-blown jellyfish.
And here’s the mind-boggling bit: if they then get injured, stressed or suffer changes in their environment, they can revert to the polyp stage and start again! In theory, they can do this countless times, so they can reset their body clock and become young again. Imagine us humans having that trick up our sleeves!
How do UK coarse species compare?
Dr Paul Garner said: “The general rule is the bigger the fish, the longer it has lived, but there are exceptions.
“Carp and catfish can live for more than 60 years, but pike are a bit of an anomaly. Although very large, they’ll generally only live for 15-16 years.
And pike aren’t the only species whose life expectancy might surprise anglers. Paul added: “Lots of angling literature states that chub, barbel, bream and tench will only live for 12-15 years, but from catches I’ve seen they can live for much longer than that.
“Chub and tench will live for between 25 and 30 years, while barbel and bream will live for a slightly shorter 20-year period.”
Some fish, on the other hand, live fast and die young.
“Grayling are probably our shortest-living fish, with a lifespan of just three or four years. This is similar to mini species like minnows, gudgeon and ruffe.”