Did you know you can tell how old a whale is by looking at its ear wax? All cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) make earwax, just like people do. In sperm whales and some baleen whales, this ear wax builds up over time, forming layers and creating an earwax plug in the ear canal.
Now, in people, a big earwax plug can interfere with our hearing. Not so in whales. Remember, whales listen underwater. The earwax plug is about the same density as the water, so it actually helps transmit the sound waves to the whale's eardrum. The earwax plug actually works as a hearing aid. If the whale's ear canal contained air, this wouldn't work.
Anyway, if you slice a whale earwax plug lengthwise, you will see layers, similar to tree rings. The dark layers form when the whales are migrating (not eating). The light layers form when the whales are feeding. So, these layers correspond to the whale's cycle of migrating and eating. Blue whales, for example, migrate each year, so each dark layer represents one year of the whale's life.
Scientists have been using earwax to determine whale age since the 1950s.
- Humpback whale - DepositPhotos
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