01 July 2005

Australian researchers develop new method to determine whales' age

Australian scientists are developing a new method of determining the age of humpback whales which can avoid killing the mammals in previous methods.

The new method relies on collecting and analyzing skin samples, Australia's Southern Cross University Associate Professor Peter Harrison said Monday.

"Our research is now focusing on using a new molecular technique to determine the age of humpback whales by looking at the DNA that's present in their skin samples," said Harrison, the director of the university's whale research program.

"When the whales are moving around and particularly when they breach, leaping out of the water, they leave behind pieces of skin that get sloughed off," he was quoted by Australian Associated Press as saying.

Researchers could then collect the skin and look at the whale's genetic code to determine its age, he said.

Previous methods involved analyzing the layers of wax inside the whale's ear canal which could be obtained only when the animals were killed.

Harrison said the new method undermined one of Japan's declared reasons for killing the mammals.

The comment came after Australia won a major victory at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) last week, gaining support for its resolution to condemn Japan's expanded scientific whaling program.

Japan said it needs to slaughter whales to understand their life cycles.

Source: english.people.com.cn


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