Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cetacean cerumen

In science-speak, the title of this post means whale ear wax and that is, in fact, a man holding a plug of it harvested from a blue whale that washed up on the beach! Not only can its layers be counted – as in dendochronology – to determine the age of the whale, but they can be chemically analyzed – as in ice core sampling – to reconstruct the concentrations of mercury and organic pollutants the whale has been exposed to over its lifetime. Plus, they reveal hormone levels which indicate sexual maturity and stress level over the years. For a majority of the species on the planet, lifetime profiles such as these are simply unattainable,” writes the research team, led by environmental scientist Sascha Usenko of Baylor University.


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