Age and growth estimates of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) via aspartic acid racemization Academic Article uri icon


  • A total of 48 eye globes were collected and analyzed to estimate ages of bowhead whales using the aspartic acid racemization technique. In this technique, age is estimated based on intrinsic changes in the D and L enantiomeric isomeric forms of aspartic acid in the eye lens nucleus. Age estimates were successful for 42 animals. Racemization rate (kAsp) for aspartic acid was based on data from earlier studies of humans and fin whales; the estimate used was 1.18 10-3/year. The D/L ratio at birth ((D/L)0) was estimated using animals less than or equal to 2 years of age (n = 8), since variability in the D/L measurements is large enough that differences among ages in this range are unmeasurable. The (D/L)0estimate was 0.0285. Variance of the age estimates was obtained using the delta method. Based on these data, growth appears faster for females than males, and age at sexual maturity (age at length 12-13 m for males and 13-13.5 m for females) occurs at around 25 years of age. Growth slows markedly for both sexes at roughly 40-50 years of age. Four individuals (all males) exceed 100 years of age. Standard error increased with estimated age, but the age estimates had lower coefficients of variation for older animals. Recoveries of traditional whale-hunting tools from five recently harvested whales also suggest life-spans in excess of 100 years of age in some cases.

published proceedings

  • Canadian Journal of Zoology

altmetric score

  • 130.004

author list (cited authors)

  • George, J. C., Bada, J., Zeh, J., Scott, L., Brown, S. E., O'Hara, T., & Suydam, R.

citation count

  • 213

complete list of authors

  • George, John C||Bada, Jeffrey||Zeh, Judith||Scott, Laura||Brown, Stephen E||O'Hara, Todd||Suydam, Robert

publication date

  • January 1999