Biomagnification of polychlorinated biphenyls in a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) food web from the strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada



Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) biomagnification was characterized in a harbor seal food web in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Canada. Trophic magnification factors (TMFs) for PCBs averaged 3.6, with a range of 0.7 to 9.4. The TMFs for individual congeners correlated with log KOW (r2 = 0.56, p < 0.001), reflecting the role that physicochemical properties play in driving the biomagnification of PCBs in marine food webs. However, TMFs differed among PCB structure activity groups, clearly indicating an additional role for metabolic transformation of certain PCBs. The known feeding preferences of harbor seals enabled the calculation of trophic level-adjusted biomagnification factors (BMFTL) for PCBs in this species, which averaged 13.4 and ranged from 0.2 to 150.6. Metabolic transformation in seals explained some of the variation in congener-specific biomagnification, with lower BMFTL values for PCB congeners with meta- and parachlorine unsubstituted positions. Principal components analysis revealed the distinct roles played by trophic level, log KOW, and metabolic transformation in explaining the notable differences in PCB patterns among harbor seals, their pups, and their prey. In the present study, the authors estimate there to be approximately 76 kg of PCBs in the biota of the Strait of Georgia, of which 1.6 kg is retained by harbor seals. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2012; 31: 2445–2455. © 2012 SETAC