Ear Wax From Whales Keeps Record Of Ocean Contaminants

Posted: September 18, 2013  |  By: Rhitu Chatterjee [NPR]

How often do whales clean their ears? Well, never. And so, year after year, their ear wax builds up, layer upon layer. According to a study published Monday, these columns of ear wax contain a record of chemical pollution in the oceans.

The study used the ear wax extracted from the carcass of a blue whale that washed ashore on a California beach back in 2007. Scientists at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History collected the wax from inside the skull of the dead whale and preserved it. The column of wax was almost a foot long.

"It's kind of got that icky look to it," says Sascha Usenko, an environmental scientist at Baylor University who was involved in the study. "It looks kind of like a candle that's been roughed up a bit. It looks waxy and has got fibers. But it's pretty rigid — a lot stronger and a lot more stable than one would think."

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