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Geographic variation of persistent organic pollutant levels in humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding areas of the North Pacific and North Atlantic

Authors

  • Cristiane T. Elfes,

    Corresponding author
    1. Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1122 NE Boat Street, Box 355020, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
    • Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1122 NE Boat Street, Box 355020, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.
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  • Glenn R. VanBlaricom,

    1. Washington Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1122 NE Boat Street, Box 355020, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
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  • Daryle Boyd,

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, Washington 98112
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  • John Calambokidis,

    1. Cascadia Research Collective, 2181/2 West Fourth Avenue, Olympia, Washington 98501, USA
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  • Phillip J. Clapham,

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 7600 Sand Point Way Northeast, Seattle, Washington 98115
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  • Ronald W. Pearce,

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, Washington 98112
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  • Jooke Robbins,

    1. Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, 5 Holway Avenue, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, USA
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  • Juan Carlos Salinas,

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 8604 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037
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  • Janice M. Straley,

    1. University of Alaska Southeast, Sitka, Alaska 99835, USA
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  • Paul R. Wade,

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 7600 Sand Point Way Northeast, Seattle, Washington 98115
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  • Margaret M. Krahn

    1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, Washington 98112
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Abstract

Seasonal feeding behavior and high fidelity to feeding areas allow humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) to be used as biological indicators of regional contamination. Biopsy blubber samples from male individuals (n = 67) were collected through SPLASH, a multinational research project, in eight North Pacific feeding grounds. Additional male samples (n = 20) were collected from one North Atlantic feeding ground. Persistent organic pollutants were measured in the samples and used to assess contaminant distribution in the study areas. North Atlantic (Gulf of Maine) whales were more contaminated than North Pacific whales, showing the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and chlordanes. The highest dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) levels were detected in whales feeding off southern California, USA. High-latitude regions were characterized by elevated levels of hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs) but generally nondetectable concentrations of PBDEs. Age was shown to have a positive relationship with ΣPCBs, ΣDDTs, Σchlordanes, and total percent lipid. Contaminant levels in humpback whales were comparable to other mysticetes and lower than those found in odontocete cetaceans and pinnipeds. Although these concentrations likely do not represent a significant conservation threat, levels in the Gulf of Maine and southern California may warrant further study. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2010;29:824–834. © 2009 SETAC

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