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CoastLine: Whales Share Their Biographies Through Their Baleen, Say Researchers

Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources / NOAA Fisheries



Whales are the largest mammals on earth.  They’ve also been around a long time.  According to the University of California, Berkeley’s Evolutionary Biology website,  the first whales evolved over 50 million years ago from a terrestrial ancestor. 

Consider the human – thought to have first appeared in Africa about 300-thousand years ago.  Although whales and humans have shared the planet since humans popped up, it’s striking how little we understand about these marine creatures.

We do know their closest living relative is the hippopotamus.  Researchers are just now studying how whales, who breathe air oxygen to survive, can dive as deeply as they do and stay submerged as long as they do.  One of the ways they’re learning about whale physiology is by studying their tissue.  

Researchers are also newly able to extract data from a whale’s baleen to learn about their ecosystem, feeding habits, and reproduction – even from whales who swam in the earth’s oceans as far back as the 19th century. 


Alyson Fleming, Ph.D.Adjunct Research Faculty member at the Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Hillary Glandon is a Post Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington 

In the show's introduction, we hear actual whale sounds, courtesy of The Oceania Project, a research and conservation nonprofit out of Australia.

This edition of CoastLine originally aired June 20, 2019.