Chemical composition of hitchhikers’ shells might reveal ancient baleen travel routes
DENVER — Barnacles can tell a whale of a tale. Chemical clues inside barnacles that hitched rides on baleen whales millions of years ago could divulge ancient whale migration routes, new research suggests.
Modern baleen whales migrate thousands of kilometers annually between breeding and feeding grounds, but almost nothing is known about how these epic journeys have changed over time. Scientists can glean where an aquatic animal has lived based on its teeth. The mix of oxygen isotopes embedded inside newly formed tooth material depends on the region and local temperature, with more oxygen-18 used near the poles than near the equator. That oxygen provides a timeline of the animal’s travels. Baleen whales don’t have teeth, though. So paleobiologists Larry Taylor and Seth Finnegan, both of the University of California, Berkeley, looked at something else growing on whales: barnacles. Like