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Vic Nordahl of the NEFSC Ecosystems Surveys Branch measures ocean quahogs during the clam survey. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC
An ocean quahog (left) and Atlantic surfclam. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

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Feb. 24, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Ocean Quahogs Among Earth's Longest Living Animals

Ocean quahogs (Arctica islandica) are among the slowest-growing and longest-living animals on Earth, typically reaching 100 to 200 years of age. They grow very slowly, except during the first 20 years of life, to just over 4 inches in length. The oldest ocean quahog ever aged by researchers here at the NEFSC was 221-years old. It was caught alive during a commercial fishing operation in the fall of 1980 at a water depth of about 120 feet south of Martha's Vineyard. The oldest known ocean quahog, nicknamed Ming, was caught off Iceland in 2006 and after aging was found to be 507!

Like other clams, ocean quahogs feed on microscopic algae and are vegetarians. Also known as mahogany or black clams or quahogs, ocean quahogs are native to the North Atlantic and in the western North Atlantic are found between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Newfoundland in water depths from 25 to 1,300 feet. Further north they are found in shallower waters closer to shore.

By comparison, Atlantic surfclams (Spisula solidissima) grow fast and are the largest bivalves - mollusks with two hinged shells that enclose their body - found in the western North Atlantic, growing up to 9 inches long. Also known as bar, hen, skimmer or sea clams, surfclams live up to 35 years.

Ocean quahogs and Atlantic surfclams are commercially harvested for seafood.  Ocean quahogs are generally chopped and minced for chowders and sauces or turned into clam juice. Surfclams are used primarily as breaded clam strips, for minced and stuffed clams, and in chowders, sauces, and broth.

Scientists from NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, along with industry and academic partners, survey the two clam populations every three years and usually follow these surveys with a stock assessment. During the three-year cycle, half of the resource is surveyed one year, the other half the second year, and any remaining survey work and gear testing is conducted the third year. The Mid-Atlantic region was surveyed in 2015 and Georges Bank, southern New England and the Great South Channel were surveyed in 2016.

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The Northeast Fisheries Science Center conducts ecosystem-based science supporting stewardship of living marine resources under changing climatic conditions. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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