Abstract: In recent years, concerns have increased regarding accumulation of persistent, lipophilic contaminants by marine mammals. We quantified blood levels of the two most prevalent organochlorine (OC) contaminants of the marine ecosystem in a model species, the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) from three north-central California populations and a population in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Intensive sampling (n = 190) produced robust quantification of blood concentrations of selected PCBs and DDE, and allowed us to investigate factors affecting levels of these contaminants in seal populations with distinct environments and exposure histories. In the Alaskan samples, PCB and DDE levels were most strongly related to sex and age; OCs increased with age in males and decreased with age in females, likely due to cumulative exposure in males and load-dumping during lactation in females. Among females, an inverse relationship was observed between condition and PCB blood levels. In contrast, in the California seals, in which loads were generally much greater, pups had greater levels of PCBs and DDE than subadults and adults, suggesting stable to decreasing environmental contaminant levels. Spatial heterogeneity and seasonal differences also contributed substantially to variation among harbor seals in contaminant loads. These findings underscore the importance of accounting for demographic, geographic, seasonal, and physiological effects in toxicological studies of marine mammals.

Key Words: harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, PCB, DDE, organochlorine, marine contamination

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.35.1.2009.1

Page Numbers: 1-11

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