blue whale

Did you know that whale’s have ears? Did you know that whale ears have earwax? Turns out that they are good about following that rule about not putting a cotton swab in there to clean it out. So, it builds up. For years.

Now, scientists have found that if they study the built-up earwax taken from a whale carcass, they can determine its age and reconstruct a picture of its life by the chemicals and hormones in its ears. It reminds me of the way studying tree rings can indicate good years and bad years, water supply, sunlight, damage, fires etc.

Baleen whales accumulate earwax that can be over a foot long. It accumulates in layers. At a glance, you can see that a dark layer if the whale is feeding and a light layer one when it is migrating and eats very little. The layers are routinely used to determine whale ages.

A chemical analysis of it was able to show what the whale had been exposed to in its lifetime including chemicals and pollutants such as mercury, DDT and other pesticides in the first six months of its life, most likely while it was still nursing. (DDT was banned in the United States in 1972, but it is still found in the world’s oceans and was present at higher levels when this whale was born around 1995.