Study of Whale Earwax Reveals a Lifetime of Contaminant Exposure

A recent study undertaken by a group of  researchers at Baylor University and aided by Agilent equipment, has uncovered information on a whale’s lifetime exposure to a wide variety of chemicals.  Utilizing a new method developed by the research team, measurements were taken through the layers of an earwax plug removed from a male blue whale that had died after being hit by a ship.

Using an Agilent 7890 Gas Chromatograph and a 5975C Mass Spectrometer, the scientists were able to reconstruct the fluctuating concentrations of mercury and organic pollutants in the whale’s environment.  In addition, by counting the layers in the earwax, they were able to determine the whale’s age – the same way growth rings from a tree trunk are used to determine a tree’s age.

The research method also allowed them to measure the hormone levels in the whale’s bloodstream — including the stress hormone, cortisol — discovering in the process that the whale’s stress levels had doubled over its lifespan. This new technique may help to transform scientists’ ability to assess human impacts on whales and their ecosystems.

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Agilent 7890B GC 

Agilent 5977A Series GC/MSD System 

In every whale’s earwax is a record of its lifetime exposure to pollutants