The natural history of whales is written in their baleen | Aeon Essays
If the whale could speak, it could tell us about its experience as it plies thousands of ocean miles, mates, bears its calves, eats zooplankton, meets its challenges and, eventually, its end. It can’t, of course, but scientists have found that biochemical traces of some of its experiences persist in its body, even long after death. Just as geologists decode the history of the Earth from rocky strata, or dendrochronologists interpret past climactic conditions from tree rings, so biologists are now learning to read a whale’s life history as inscribed in its baleen. This anatomical oddity, part of a class of animal tissues that are emerging as tenacious biological recordkeepers, could reveal a monthly, even weekly, historical record of a whale’s life events stretching back as long as two decades. Just how much it will tell us remains to be seen.