Is Puget Sound the Fountain of Youth?

By Sarah B., Puget Sound: We Love You member

The Fountain of Youth is the legendary story of waters that restore youth allowing one to live forever.

Puget Sound may not be the fountain of youth, but these creatures make you wonder.
Red sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus franciscanus, are vivid creatures, varying between a uniform red and dark maroon, that crawl slowly over the sea bottom. Sea urchins belong to the marine invertebrate group called echinoderms. This spiny urchin can live over 200 years with few signs of age-related disease.

Red sea urchin (Creative commons image by Kirk L. Onthank)

The geoduck clam (pronounced “goo-ee-­duck”), Panopea generosa, is the largest bivalve in Puget Sound and the largest burrowing clam in the world. Geoducks’ success in survival stems from their ability to grow large enough to dig deep into the sand, beyond the reach of most predators. Geoducks have been known to live 160 years and to grow to over a meter long.

Geoduck (Creative commons image by Joe Mabel)

Rougheye rockfish are one of the longest living fishes discovered in the world, with a specimen over 205 years old found by scientists. Rougheye rockfish are primarily found across the Northern Pacific Ocean and their diet is chiefly made up of shrimp. If you order red snapper at a restaurant, you could be eating a piece of history without even knowing it.

Rougheye rockfish (Image from Bulletin of the United States Fishing Commission, via Wikimedia)

Yelloweye rockfish are among the longest lived of rockfishes. They can live at least 118 years old on the rocky, seafloor bottom ranging from Alaska to Baja California. Yelloweye rockfish are known to live in rocky, bottom areas and have a range of habitat from Mexico to Alaska.

Adult Yelloweye Rockfish (Public domain image from NOAA)

These animals have evolved to live at a different pace than we do, which often means that they reproduce at very slow rates. This means that their populations are susceptible to overfishing, especially when the largest (and therefore oldest) individuals are targeted, because it takes a long time for the population to replenish itself. Keep this in mind when you are making choices about seafood, and make sure your meals come from sustainable sources.

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