On July 31, my mother celebrated her 88th birthday. Based on recent discoveries, it is quite possible—even likely—that a fish somewhere turned 88 on the same day.
It could have been a snapper. In one study of 476 snappers of three species caught along the Western Australian coast and the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 11 specimens were over 60 years old. One two-spot red snapper was 79, and a midnight snapper was 81.
They are the oldest tropical reef-dwelling fishes known to science, and they are not likely to be rare examples of longevity in these species. The 81-year-old midnight snapper was found in a sampling of just 11 fish, making it improbable that the researchers stumbled upon an exception. All were apparently healthy when they were caught. “Some of these fish are probably getting up close to 100 years old,” says Brett Taylor, a marine ecologist with the University of Guam and leader of the study, which was published in the journal Coral Reefs.1