Earwax Reveals Clues About a Whale’s Life

Written by on September 17, 2013 in Marine Life, Whales & Dolphins

Daily Summary

Ocean Pollution from Strange Sources
With 2,400 tons of heavy fuel oil, 10 large oxygen tanks, 3,929 liters of carbon dioxide and other mechanical lubricating oils, paints and insecticides aboard the Costa Concordia, many were concerned about the environmental impacts after it capsized in January 2012. The heavy fuel oil was removed quickly after the crash, but most of the other chemicals remained on board. As the ship was raised upright, some were worried about the environmental impacts if the hull broke and spilled any of that toxic waste into the water. There were stand-by oil response vessels on site and, thankfully, the ship remained intact and will soon be removed from the coast. (Here are some of those articles from last January: An ecological disaster? What Will The Disaster Mean For The Mediterranean? The potential environmental impact of the Costa Concordia wreck.)

U of M researchers discover early-warning system to prevent fishery collapse
A new study demonstrates how extinction and overfishing threats from multispecies fisheries can be identified decades before population decline begins. Multispecies fisheries include fisheries that have non-specific catch methods, like nets and long lines. The “Eventual Threat Index” can identify the conditions that would cause a species to be over-harvested in the long term. Because multispecies fisheries effect many species in one effort, the Eventual Threat Index can predict the fate of any species in the fishery if the fate of one species can be predicted. The researchers note that the index is inexpensive and easy to calculate and could be done with data that fishermen are already collecting.

Whale earwax a time capsule for stress and toxins
New research reveals that wax inside a whale’s ear documents the animal’s stress levels and exposure to pollutants throughout its life. Whale earwax is a fat-rich deposit that records time similar to the rings of a tree. In this case, the rings represent about a six-month period. Using earwax extracted from a blue whale killed in a collision with a ship in 2007, researchers found that it had come into contact with several organic pollutants and contained high levels of the stress hormone cortisol as it reached sexual maturity. Chemicals found in the whale’s first year of life suggest that contaminants were passed to him from his mother in the womb and during nursing. You can listen this feature on NPR to learn more!

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) getting ready to dive.

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) getting ready to dive. Photo credit: mikebaird via photopin cc.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Find MST on Instagram Connect with MST on Google Plus

Comments are closed.