(B) Extracted blue whale earplug; total length 25.4 cm. (C) Earplug longitudinal cross-section. (D) View (20×) of earplug cross- section showing discrete laminae.
Think your ears get waxy? Imagine whales'!
This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
Whales get wax in their ear canals, too! And their wax accumulates, in layers, year after year—like rings on a tree.
Each layer, whatever was present in the whale, and its environment, built up in the wax.
Enter environmental scientists at Baylor University. They chemically analyzed a ten-inch-long earwax plug, extracted from a deceased blue whale.
The plug had twenty-four layers, two for each year—feeding season and fasting season. That means the whale was twelve when it died.
Increased testosterone in the wax at age nine showed when it reached puberty. Stress hormones were also present. They steadily increased each year.
Sixteen environmental pollutants also showed up, including pesticides and flame retardants.
Analyzing earwax plugs could help assess humans' impact on whales and their environment.
As well as their need for giant underwater Q-tips! Just a thought.