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Scientists confirm age of world's oldest aquarium fish

An Australian lungfish that has been at a California aquarium for over 80 years is now considered the oldest living aquarium fish.
Scientists confirm age of world's oldest aquarium fish
Posted at 11:57 AM, Sep 25, 2023

Using a DNA-based age clock, scientists believe that the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco is home to the world's oldest aquarium fish. 

Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences now estimate that Methuselah, the aquarium's beloved Australian lungfish, is 92 years old. The aquarium previously estimated Methuselah's age was 84. 

Researchers said there is a nine-year margin of error, which means the fish could be up to 101 years old. 

The California Academy of Sciences says estimating the age of ancient fish can be challenging, and existing methods can be invasive and sometimes lethal. Scientists say the method used to study Methuselah's age is harmless. They say it involves taking a tiny tissue sample from a fin clip less than 0.5 centimeters. 

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Methuselah was among 30 lungfish whose ages were studied. 

"Although we know Methuselah came to us in the late 1930s, there was no method for determining her age at that time, so it’s incredibly exciting to get science-based information on her actual age," says Charles Delbeek, curator of aquarium projects at the Steinhart Aquarium. "Methuselah is an important ambassador for her species, helping to educate and stoke curiosity in visitors from all over the world."

Dr. Ben Mayne with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia said dating Methuselah's age can help the lungfish population. 

"Accurately knowing the ages of fish in a population, including the maximum age, is vital for their management," Mayne said. "This tells us just how long a species can survive and reproduce in the wild, which is critical for modeling population viability and reproductive potential for a species. It is a rare and valuable opportunity for researchers to access exceptionally long lived fish such as Methuselah kept in the care of California Academy of Sciences, as it helps us understand maximum longevity of a species under ideal care conditions."

The Australian lungfish is considered a vulnerable species in Australia. The Australian government said the lungfish is the last from a family of fish that have been around since the age of dinosaurs. The government said fossil records show the Australian lungfish has been around for 100 million years. 

It is also a relatively heavy fish, weighing on average about 88 pounds. 

It gets its name because, unlike most fish, the lungfish can breathe air without gills. 

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