How Long Do Whales Live?

The whale species is known to have several of the longest known living animals in the world with several species living for 100 years or more, however estimating the life expectancy of 80 – 90 or so various species of Cetacea (cetaceans include all species of whale, dolphin and porpoise) can be a very challenging task.

Luckily there are some facts and estimates that can be said about whales to help bring clarity to this topic.

The length of a whales life is determined by many factors such as its habitat, geography, diet, lifestyle, level of endangerment and species.

Female killer whales (killer whales are actually part of the dolphin species) that live in the wild for example have been known to live for up to 70 – 80 years, although the average is about 50 years.

And male killer whales can live to be 50 – 60 years old, but usually live until around their 30′s.

In captivity however most killer whales usually don’t live beyond their 20′s.

As you can see from this example a whales environment and social structure can be detrimental in determining its longevity.

The lack of an having a wide open ocean and not being able to communicate with family members can drastically decrease the lifespan of these marine mammals.

While animals such as the beluga whale and killer whale can be found in captivity the largest living animal in the world, the blue whale, is too large to be held in captivity, however over the years the blue whale has become very popular among whale watchers.

Dark Silhouette of a Humpback WhaleThese whales are estimated to live to at least 80 years.

Surprisingly this massive whale is able to survive on a diet primarily consisting of krill (small shrimp like crustaceans), and on some occasions fish and other small sea creatures.

On the opposite end of the spectrum the smallest whale, the dwarf sperm whale, which grows to nearly 9 feet and weighs in at around 550 pounds may only live till around 20 – 25 years.

Below is a list of the average life expectancy of several whale species

Average lifespan of whales

  • The Beluga whale has an average lifespan of 40 – 60 years
  • The Blue whale has an average lifespan of 70 – 90 years
  • The Bowhead whale has an average lifespan of 100 – 200 years
  • The Fin whale has an average lifespan of 60 – 100 years
  • The Gray whale has an average lifespan of 50 - 70 years
  • The Humpback whale has an average lifespan of 40 – 100 years
  • The Minke whale has an average lifespan of 30 – 50 years
  • The Narwhal whale has an average lifespan of 40 – 60 years
  • The Sperm whale has an average lifespan of 60 – 80 years

Various scientific studies have calculated life expectancy averages of various species to range anywhere from 30 – 70 years (a decent life expectancy among healthy non endangered whales) all the way up to 200 years for species such as the bowhead whale that are in top physical health.

Unfortunately there is no clear answer to this question in terms of the entire species as some species are harder to research and gather data from than others, but researchers have been able to give us a pretty good idea of how long some species of whales do live.

Scientists and researchers have researched the life expectancy of various species of whales and have estimated that some whales can live longer than humans.

One study concluded that some bowhead whale live around for 160 -180 years, and at least one living male bowhead whale has been estimated to be nearly 200 years old.

Factors affecting the lifespan of a whale

As stated earlier there are several factors that can affect a whales lifespan.

Some of these factors are as follows:

Habitat – The habitat that a whale, dolphin or porpoise lives in can have a strong impact on their lifespan. Animals that live in highly commercial areas for example are at a greater risk of being struck by a boat, having to deal with pollution, being separated by family and friends and dealing with increased stress due to a consistently noisy and obtrusive environment.

Diet – The types of food a whale consumes and its ability to find adequate food sources is also important for its survival. Is the food they eat healthy or contaminated, is it abundant or sparse and is it the best type of food for them?

In certain locations whales may also face competition for food resources from fisherman in heavily commercialized areas.

Lifestyle - The type of lifestyle a whale lives can assist with increasing or decreasing their age.

Some species are known to lead more stressful lives than others.

For example whales that live in environments where there are more threats from predators may be on alert more often and face more stress as a result.

Species that are naturally social, but have been separated from family and friends may become depressed or agitated leading to isolation and a decreased capacity to communicate with other whales.

These factors have been shown to greatly decrease the lifespan of these marine mammals.

Level of endangerment – The more endangered a particular species is the more difficult it is for them to find social groups to interact with or mate with, and the less mating partners a whale has the more difficult it is for them to reproduce and bare offspring.

In addition to this whales that have become endangered due to whaling activities take much longer to recover and replenish their stocks.

The combination of having less whales to communicate and the increased difficulty in finding a mating partner can create stress that reduces an endangered whales life expectancy.

Species – While there are a number of natural and unnatural factors that can impact a whales life expectancy perhaps one of the biggest impacts on lifespan is the whales species.

Some whale species naturally have longer life expediencies than others.

As shown in the average lifespan section of this article if all things are considered equal in terms of habitat, diet, lifestyle and level of endangerment some whale species are simply able to live longer than others.