Scientists have known for years that the layers of ear wax produced by whales can help determine an animal’s age. But now, research by two Baylor faculty members has shown that there is a lot more we can learn from these foot-long plugs of waxy buildup.
Dr. Sascha Usenko, assistant professor of environmental science, and Dr. Stephen Trumble, assistant professor of biology, discovered that blue whales’ ear wax plugs function as a sort of time capsule, storing traces of contaminants and hormones that can yield knowledge about the whale’s development and exposure to pollutants throughout its lifetime.
Whales produce a new layer of ear wax every six months, so the placement of chemicals in the wax plug allowed Usenko and Trumble to pinpoint chemical exposure to a particular time in a whale’s life. This knowledge will greatly improve scientists’ ability to measure the timing and impact of pollution on whales and their ecosystems.
The groundbreaking study, published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, has received attention from news outlets around the world. Click the links below to read more coverage of this exciting research.
- ABC (Australia) Science – Ear Wax Reveals Whale’s Tale
- The Christian Science Monitor – In Earwax, The Tale Of A Whale
- The Guardian (UK) – In every whale’s earwax is a record of its lifetime exposure to pollutants
- Los Angeles Times – Like A Tree’s Rings, Blue Whale’s Earwax Tells A Story Of Its Life
- NBC News – A Whale’s Life Story Is Recorded In Its Ear Wax
- NPR Morning Edition – Ear Wax From Whales Keeps Record Of Ocean Contaminants
- NPR Science Friday – A Chronicle Of A Whale’s Life, Captured In Earwax
- National Geographic Phenomena Blog – Biography Of A Blue Whale, Told Through Ear Wax
- National Geographic Newswatch Blog – Giant Gob of Earwax Reveals Blue Whale Secrets
- Slate.com – How a Huge Whale’s Earwax Told Us Its Life Story
- Smithsonian Surprising Science Blog – Blue Whale Earwax Reveals Pollution Accumulated Over A Lifetime
- Wired – Whale Earwax Reveals A Timeline Of Its Exposure To Contaminants