Oldest tropical reef fish ever recorded is an 81-year-old midnight snapper

But it doesn't look a day over 80.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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A midnight snapper wowed scientists by logging 81 years in the water.

AIMS/Brett Taylor

Scientists are learning more about the secret -- and surprisingly long -- lives of tropical reef fish. An 81-year-old midnight snapper found off the coast of Western Australia has rewritten the record books.

"Until now, the oldest fish that we've found in shallow, tropical waters have been around 60 years old," Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) fish biologist Brett Taylor said in a statement on Tuesday. "We've identified two different species here that are becoming octogenarians, and probably older."

Taylor led a study on the long-lived fish published in the journal Coral Reefs this month. The paper covered red bass, midnight snapper and black and white snapper. The researchers found 11 fish that were more than six decades old. A 79-year-old red bass was discovered in the same area as the record-setting snapper.

Determining the age of a fish is a lot like calculating the age of a tree. Fish ear bones (otoliths) have growth bands that let scientists dial in an accurate age. The bad news is that this method requires killing the fish. At least the snapper had a good run. "It's just incredible for a fish to live on a coral reef for 80 years," Taylor said.  

The researchers hope the study will help with fish management decisions during a time of climate change. "We're observing fish at different latitudes -- with varying water temperatures -- to better understand how they might react when temperatures warm everywhere," said Taylor.

The midnight snapper joins a short list of impressively aged marine animals. The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago hosted Granddad the lungfish for over eight decades before his death in 2017. Granddad was the world's oldest aquarium fish at the time. Researchers announced the discovery of 400-year-old Greenland shark in 2016.

This gives our pet goldfish something to aspire to.