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How big is the world's longest-lived tortoise? 5 Sea Turtles That Survived Centuries

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  • The longest-lived sea turtle certified by Guinness World Records is Jonathan, who is 190 years old and still alive.
  • The age of tortoises is not easy to determine, and even with scientific research and historical records, their ages are often difficult to verify.
  • Sea turtles and giant tortoises live the longest, often over 150 years old!

The average human lifespan is less than 80 years, but some animals live much longer. Greenland sharks, bowhead whales, koi and red sea urchins can all live for hundreds of years. A species of clam called the marine quahog has been known to live for over 500 years!

Turtles can live an exceptionally long life. How long does a turtle live? Maybe you remember the crushed turtle's response from Disney's Finding Nemo : "One hundred and fifty, man, still young. Rock!

Crush is right – many tortoises and tortoises can live to be over 150 years old. How old is the oldest turtle in the world? Let's explore some of the world's longest-lived sea turtle species and record-breaking individuals.

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How Long Do Sea Turtles Live?

According to the Sea Turtle Conservation Society, most sea turtle species live between 10 and 80 years. But sea turtles and large tortoises can live much older. They can live up to 150 years or more.

As with whales, sharks and other species, it is often difficult to determine the exact age of sea turtles. After all, researchers are usually not present when animals are born. However, some estimates suggest that large sea turtles may live 400 to 500 years!

Where do sea turtles live?

Sea turtles are found all over the world and live in a variety of different habitats. They are found in freshwater, brackish and terrestrial environments.

Freshwater turtles live in ponds, lakes, rivers and swamps. They are often found in slow moving or still waters and are well adapted to living in these environments. Some examples of freshwater turtles include red-eared turtles, painted turtles, and map turtles.

Saltwater turtles, also known as sea turtles, live in the ocean. They are found in all the world's oceans, from the warm tropical waters to the cold waters of the polar regions. Some examples of saltwater turtles include loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, and hawksbill turtles.

Tortoises, also known as tortoises, live on land and in deserts. They are adapted to live in dry, hot environments and can survive for long periods of time without water. Some examples of tortoises include box turtles, tortoises, and gopher turtles.

In general, sea turtles are well adapted to their environment and can be found in almost every corner of the world.

Meet the world's oldest sea turtle

The Seychelles giant tortoise Jonathan is the oldest known land animal in the world. Meet Jonathan and some of his predecessors when you consider the following list of some of the longest-lived tortoises in existence in recent decades. Note also that all ages are estimated and even disputed. These estimates are based on scientific research and historical records.

#5. Harriet the Galapagos tortoise

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Harriet (circa 1830 – June 23, 2006) was a Galapagos tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus porteri) with an estimated age of 175 at the time of his death in Australia.

©iStock.com/Lisa Seeto

Age: 175 (estimated)
Gender: Female Size: 150kg Species: Giant Galapagos tortoise, Chelonoidis niger
Born: Galapagos Islands, circa 1830 Lived in: Australia

Harriet has captivated Australian animal lovers for over a century and was a resident of Australia Zoo in Queensland, Australia for two decades. She is often seen on the Crocodile Hunter TV series. Before her death in 2006, Harriet was the oldest known animal in the world (invertebrates and vertebrates with inferred but unconfirmed ages are not counted). She was named the "oldest surviving sea turtle" by Guinness World Records.

Where is Harriet from? Naturalist Charles Darwin collected this turtle in 1835 during an expedition to the Galapagos Islands—specifically, Santa Cruz. At the time, she was about the size of a dinner plate and it is estimated that she must have hatched around 1830.

She was first brought to England before arriving in Australia in 1842. She lived in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens for over 100 years before being transferred to Fleay's animal sanctuary and then to Australia Zoo. According to Australia Zoo, "DNA testing unequivocally demonstrated that Harriet was at least one generation older than any tortoise surviving in Australia."

#4. Radiated Turtle Tu'i Malila

Age: 189
Gender: Female Dimensions: Length 16.25 inches, Width 13 inches, Height 9.5 inches Species: Radiated Tortoise, Astrochelys radiata
Born: Madagascar, circa 1777 Lived in: Tonga

Tu'i Malila is said to have been collected in 1777 by British explorer James Cook from Madagascar, a large island off the coast of Africa. She was later gifted to the royal family of the Pacific island of Tonga.

According to Guinness World Records, Tu'i Malila is "the all-time record holder for the world's longest-lived tortoise," but Jonathan has already surpassed that record. Tu'i Malila died in 1966, but you can still see her well-preserved remains in the Tongan Royal Palace today.

#3. Seychelles giant tortoise Jonathan

Jonathan the oldest turtle
Jonathan, a Seychelles giant tortoise, possibly the oldest surviving animal, on his plantation estate in St. Helena.

© Nick Snapper/Shutterstock.com

Age: 189 (estimated)
Gender Male Size: 48 inches long Species: Seychelles giant tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea hololissa
Born: Seychelles, circa 1832 Lived: St. Helena

Jonathan the Seychelles giant tortoise, a subspecies of the Aldabra giant tortoise, is estimated to have been born two years after Harriet. After her death, he became the oldest known living land animal. Guinness World Records now reveals that Jonathan is officially the world's oldest tortoise at 190 years old!

Jonathan was collected in 1882 from Seychelles, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean and off the coast of Africa. He was taken to St. Helena, an island in the Pacific Ocean, where he has lived ever since.

Jonathan was described as "fully mature" in 1882. Since these tortoises mature at the age of 50, it is estimated that Jonathan hatched no later than 1832. However, he may be a few years older than him.

As of October 2022, Jonathan is reportedly alive and in good health.

#2. Aldabra giant tortoise Adwaita

Age: 255 (not verified)
Gender Male Size: 551 lbs Species: Aldabra giant tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea
Born: Aldabra Atoll, Seychelles, circa 1750 Lived: Calcutta, India

Adwaita is said to have arrived in India in 1757 and lived at the colonial estate until 1875 when it was transferred to the Alipore Zoo. Adwaita lived at the Alipore Zoo in Kolkata, India until his death in 2006.

You'll notice that Adwaita died the same year as Harriet, but was born an estimated 82 years earlier. Why was Harriet and not Advata considered the oldest land animal at the time? Adwaita's origin story is considered anecdotal and has yet to be confirmed, while Harriet's collection and travels are well documented. Some investigators believe Adwaita was 150 years old when he died.

#1. African spiny-footed turtle Alagba

Alagba, the oldest tortoise
The tortoise, named Alagba, which means elder tortoise, had been living in a palace in Ogbomoso, Oyo state, Nigeria, and was reportedly 344 years old.

© Rilwanola1/CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – Licensed

Age: 344 (disputed)
Gender: Female Dimensions: 20 inches, 90 lbs (average)
Species: African spiny-legged tortoise, Geochelone sulcata
Birthplace: Africa, date not confirmed Residence: Nigeria

How old is the oldest turtle in the world? In 2019, a Nigerian royal palace "announced that its resident tortoise … had died of a brief illness, saying he was 344 years old," according to the BBC.

The turtle, believed by some to have healing powers, is said to have been brought to the palace by Isan Okumoyede, whose reign lasted from 1770 to 1797. This means that Alagba was over 100 years old when he was brought to the palace.

Many experts consider this age unlikely, as this tortoise species typically lives 80 to 100 years. It has been suggested that more than one tortoise was named Alagba over the years, taking its place after the former died.

Here's a rundown of the world's oldest sea turtles

Here is a brief recap of notable sea turtles that broke the record for longest sea turtle lifespan:

rank turtle age
#1 African Spurred Tortoise Alagba 344
#2 Aldabra giant tortoise Adwaita 255 years
#3 Seychelles giant tortoise Jonathan 190 years
#4 Radiated Turtle Tu'i Malila 189 years
#5 Harriet the Galapagos tortoise 175 years

other long-lived animals

Turtles aren't the only long-lived animals on Earth. There are many places to explore. Here are just a few:

  • Greenland Shark (200 years old) – Biologists believe this large, slow-moving fish can live up to 5,000 years. Its longevity may have something to do with the fact that it is slow to do anything. It doesn't even breed until around 150 years old.
  • Orange Roughy (150 years old) – This is a deep-sea fish that matures extremely slowly, making them highly vulnerable to overfishing. They tend to be orange-red when active or eating, but slowly lose their pigmentation while resting. The oldest human ever lived was estimated to be 250 years old.
  • Tuatara (100 years old) – Neither quite a lizard nor quite a dinosaur, New Zealand's tuatara is one of the few truly unique animals in the world. They have been around since the Triassic period, about 240 million years ago. They are only found on a few islands in New Zealand. In captivity, they can live to be 100 years old.
  • Red sea urchins (100 years old) – These small, spiny, round creatures live on the seafloor from zero depth to the deepest trenches. On average they live to be 100 years old, but some can live to be 200!


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about the author

Heather Hall

I'm a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by nature. When I do my daily runs, I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I have two dogs that take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How long can giant tortoises live?

Harriet the Galapagos giant tortoise lived to be 175, and Jonathan the Aldabra Seychelles tortoise was 189 at the time of publication.

Who is Lonely George and where is he now?

Lonely George is a male Pinta Island tortoise ( Chelonoidis abingdonii ). He is the last known individual of his species, often referred to as "the rarest creature in the world".

George moved to Santa Cruz, another Galapagos island, in 1971 after his island home was destroyed by invasive species. He was estimated to have been hatched in about 1910 and died in 2012 at about 101 or 102 years old. His body was preserved and he is still on display in the Galapagos National Park.

How old is the oldest Galapagos sea turtle now?

The exact age of most wild Galapagos sea turtles is unknown. A female Fernandina giant tortoise is estimated to be over 100 years old at a breeding center on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands.

Interestingly, the Fernandina giant tortoise was thought to have been extinct for over a century. The last known individual appeared in 1906. Then, the Fernandina female was found 115 years later in 2019!

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