Midlink Readers -
I received the following question from [firstname.lastname@example.org] -
"What can you tell us about whale ear wax?"
If you have been following the around-the-world voyage of the NOAA Ship MALCOLM BALDRIGE, you will know that I am by no means an expert on whales, nor are our marine mammal observers still aboard. So it will be difficult for me to provide a definitive answer to your question.
What I can tell you is that waxy deposits, or plugs of wax, build up inside the ears of whales (just as waxy deposits build up inside your ears or mine), and the size of these deposits generally corresponds to the age of the whale (i.e., the larger the wax deposit, the older the whale, generally speaking). In fact, observing the size of the ear wax plug is about the only way to determine age in baleen whales (order Mysticeti), that do not have teeth. Age determination in the toothed whales (order Ordontoceti - for exampleorcas) and in dolphins is easier, because the teeth are built up in layers. If you look at a thin section of a tooth from a toothed whale or from a dolphin under a microscope, you will see that the tooth is built up with many layers. These layers correspond to the age of the whale or dolphin.
Captain Craig S. Nelson, NOAA
NOAA Ship MALCOLM BALDRIGE
Back for more about the BALDRIGE