Can Earwax Be Used to Tell a Whale's Age?

Like humans, whales produce a steady flow of earwax. Unlike humans, whales tend to develop plugs of wax that are not easily dislodged. In fact, the wax can accumulate over the life of the whale. Along with examining the teeth, measuring the amount of wax accumulated in the ears of whales makes it possible to accurately determine their ages.

More facts about measuring a whale’s age:

  • With some whales, measuring ear wax is the only definitive way to determine age. This is true for varieties that do not have teeth, such as baleen whales. Scientists sometimes use both the condition of the teeth and the amount of wax buildup to determine the whale’s age.

  • Using the wax plugs to determine age is a lot like counting the rings on a tree. The wax accumulates in layers, so it is easy to determine the number of layers that are present and relate that data to a specific number of years.

  • It is not possible to collect earwax plugs from live whales. A combination of blubber and muscle protect the wax from easy collection. In addition, collecting wax from live marine animals is prohibited in a number of nations, including the United States.

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Discussion Comments


Their age does matter to better understand the species' biology. This is important for conservation, in learning about their life history patterns and how they may be affected by humans.


Well leave the whales alone. Their age doesn't matter unless they have been slaughtered, which seems to be a past time of the human species.

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