Respect Your EldersWhen you think of the ocean you might think of a dark, ruthless world where hunt or be hunted is the only law. Animals living under the constant threat of being gobbled up should they dare reveal themselves by poking a fin out from their safe place. Creatures living fast, dying young.
There’s no doubt it is ruthless under those waves, but it’s perhaps not so helter skelter down there. Research is showing that many marine creatures are actually living slow and dying old.
Yellowtail kingfish, for example, have been found at 21 years of age, old enough to legally drink and buy hand guns in the United States; pink ling are known to live 25 to 30 years, old enough to be tied down by a mortgage, a couple of kids and a boring job; mulloway, swordfish and lobsters can all go deep into their dirty thirties; mighty southern bluefin tuna and old men snapper are known to rock the salt and pepper look in their 40s; a simple silver sweep on red alert for a mid-life crisis has been recorded at 54 years old; a cranky great white shark at 73 years, likely still working thanks to Tony Abbott; and a geriatric bass groper, possibly resisting a retirement village, was recorded at almost 80 years young .
These are just a few examples of actual ages assigned to individual fish by research scientists using a variety of ageing techniques such as the counting of annual growth bands in ear bones (otoliths) and vertebrae, and bomb radiocarbon dating.
It makes you wonder what these old fish have seen, what they’ve experienced and what they know.
I’m curious how many times that 40 year-old southern bluefin swum around the world, which was his favourite country, how many close calls he had with hungry mako sharks, whether he get along with all the other tuna swimming in his school, and how he avoided the tuna ranchers and longliners for so long?
I’d love to know what that silver sweep did to fill his 54 years. Did he make the most of his time, have any regrets, ever venture away from his home patch of reef? And how many times was he caught and thrown back?
I wonder what it was like to be that bass groper, living in complete darkness on a seamount for 80 long years. Did his neighbours scare him in the dark when they dropped round for a visit? And did he ever have a ship sink and settle on his submarine mountain?
Above all, I wonder how much these fish saw and felt their environment change around them during their lifespan.
I’ll never know the answers to these questions, but I certainly find it humbling to think that the plain, unassuming little fish I spotted while snorkelling could possibly have a decade or two on me. Who knows? Either way, the knowledge that many of the fish I see have spent more time on this planet than me helps me to maintain a healthy respect for our scaly friends.