Whale Earplug Reveals Lifetime Contaminant Exposure and Hormone Profiles

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Contact Information:

Tonya B. Lewis, (254) 710-4656, or the Office of Media Communications at (254) 710-1961.

WACO, Texas--Baylor University researchers have developed a novel technique for reconstructing contaminant and hormone profiles in whale earplugs. This technique, which was developed by Sascha Usenko, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental science, and Stephen Trumble, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology is providing new insight into how pollutants and other made-man stressors impact marine mammals.

Trumble and Usenko


Trumble and Usenko have now demonstrated that both man-made and endogenous chemicals are recorded and archived in whale earplugs. The goal of the research is to provide the first-ever lifetime profiles of whales and how they interact and are impacted by their environment.

Related Links

Dr. Stephen Trumble's Bio

Dr. Sascha Usenko's Bio

Baylor Professors Use Whale Earwax to Develop New Method of Determining Lifetime Contaminant Exposure in Whales

News articles about the research:

• Nature, Sept. 16, 2013: Whale earwax a time capsule for stress and toxins

•National Geographic, Sept. 16, 2013: Biography of A Blue Whale, Told Through Ear Wax

• Live Science, Sept. 17, 2013: 10-Inch-Long Earwax Plug Reveals Blue Whale's Life History

• National Geographic, Sept. 16, 2013: Giant Gob of Earwax Reveals Blue Whale Secrets

• Smithsonian, Sept. 16, 2013: Blue Whale Earwax Reveals Pollution Accumulated Over a Lifetime

• Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 18, 2013: In earwax, the tale of a whale

• Discovery Channel's Digital Planet, Sept. 17, 2013: Discoveries: Whale earwax (VIDEO at 5:00 mark)

• MSN, Sept. 18, 2013: Want to know how old a blue whale is? Check its earwax (VIDEO)

• Huffington Post, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale Ear Wax Reveals Animal's Exposure to Stress & Toxins, Scientists Say (VIDEO)

• Yahoo!, Sept. 16, 2013: Earwax, Flame Retardants, and Hormones: The World's Weirdest Whale Study

• Yahoo!, Sept. 18, 2013: 10-Inch-Long Earwax Plug Reveals Blue Whale's Life History

• NPR Morning Edition, Sept. 16, 2013: Ear Wax from Whales Keeps Record of Ocean Contaminants (AUDIO)

• Los Angeles Times, Sept. 17, 2013: Like a tree's rings, blue whale's earwax tells a story of its life

• Red Orbit, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale Earwax Reveals Secrets Of Their Past (VIDEO)

• PBS Newshour, Sept. 17, 2013: Reading a whale's life story from ear wax

• NBC News, Sept. 16, 2013: A whale's life story is recorded in its ear wax

• New Scientist, Sept. 16, 2013: Whales record major life events in their earwax

• The Weather Channel, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale Earwax Traces a Lifetime of Contaminants

• The Guardian (UK), Sept. 17, 2013: Buried in every whale's earwax resides a record of their lifetime exposure to pollutants (VIDEO)

• Discovery News, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale Ear Wax Tells of Short, Contaminated Life

• Latinos Post, Sept. 17, 2013: Blue Whale's Earwax Offers a Window into the Whale's Life and Oceanic Pollutants (VIDEO)

• ABC (Australia) Science, Sept. 17, 2013: Ear wax reveals whale's tale

• Nature World News, Sept. 17, 2013: Blue Whale Earwax Reveals History into Whale, Ocean Health

• Wired, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale earwax reveals a timeline of its exposure to contaminants

• Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 17, 2013: Whales' ear wax tells life story, tracks pollution (VIDEO)

• Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 17, 2013: Whales' ear wax tells life story, tracks pollution (VIDEO)

• Take Part, Sept. 16, 2013: Ear Wax, Flame Retardants and Hormones: The World's Weirdest Whale Study

• Mother Nature Network, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale ear wax (you heard that right) carries a lifetime of ocean pollutants

• International Science Times, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale Ear Wax Keeps Record of Ocean Pollution

• Business Insider, Sept. 18, 2013: It Takes Only 10 Inches Of Earwax To Tell The Life Story Of A Blue Whale

• HNGN, Sept. 17, 2013: Ear Wax Reveals Whale's Life History But Smells 'Terrible'; Could Show Human Effect On Environment

• Ocean Leadership, Sept. 17, 2013: Whale Ear Wax (You Heard That Right) Carries a Lifetime of Ocean Pollutants

• The Conversation, Sept. 17, 2013: Scientists plumb blue whales' secrets by looking in their ears

• Motherboard, Sept. 18, 2013: Blue Whale Earwax Offers a Surprisingly Good Record of Pollution

• The Atlantic Cities, Sept. 19, 2013: This Dead Whale Is Helping Science in an Incredibly Gross Way

• DRadio "Deutschlandfunk" (German Public Radio, Sept. 18, 2013: Ein ganz besonderer Pfropfen(AUDIO)

• Counsel & Heal, Sept. 17, 2013: The Key to Studying a Blue Whale? Look At the Ear Wax

• iO9, Sept. 16, 2013: This is the secret to discovering a whale's life history

• French Tribune, Sept. 18, 2013: Ear Wax May Throw Light on Lives of Free-Swimming Species

• Boating World Magazine, Sept. 18, 2013: Ear Wax From Whales Keeps Record Of Ocean Contaminants

• Alaska Dispatch, Sept. 18, 2013: In earwax, the tale of a whale

• Earth Preservers, March 9, 2012: Believe it or not, Scientists are Using Whales’ Earwax to Study Ocean Contaminants

• UWire, Feb. 14, 2012: Unusual pollution research studies whale earwax

• Baylor Lariat, Feb. 14, 2012: Unusual Unusual pollution research: Earwax-environment link studied

• Science Magazine, December 2011: Tracking Contaminants in Whales’Using Their Earwax