Whale Earwax Offers Opportunity For Unique Insight

A biologist from Baylor University in Texas has discovered a unique way to determine changes in hormone and contaminant levels in baleen whales – through their ear wax. Stephen Trumble is a whale biologist who studied at UAF. He says museums have collected these earwax plugs for a century and the Smithsonian alone has more than 500. They are commonly used to determine a whales’ age – like tree rings.

But three years ago an environmental chemist suggested to Trumble the wax plugs were also like sediment cores. It was a moment of insight.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.