• Persistent organic pollutants;
  • Contaminant mixtures;
  • Estrogenicity;
  • Antiestrogenicity;
  • Bottlenose dolphin


Cetaceans are federally protected species that are prone to accumulate complex mixtures of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which individually may exert estrogenic or antiestrogenic effects. In the present study it was assessed whether contaminant mixtures harbored by cetaceans are estrogenic or antiestrogenic using a comparative approach. Interactions of antiestrogenic and estrogenic compounds were first investigated with the E-Screen assay using a mixture of four POPs (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene [4,4′-DDE], trans-nonachlor, and polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs] 138 180) prevalent in cetacean blubber. Estrogenic/antiestrogenic activity was determined for the individual compounds and their binary, tertiary, and quaternary combinations. Significantly different responses were observed for the various POP mixtures, including enhanced estrogenic and antiestrogenic effects and antagonistic interactions. These results were then compared to the concentrations and estrogenic/antiestrogenic activity of contaminant mixtures isolated directly from the blubber of 15 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) collected from five U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico locations. The lowest observed effect concentrations (LOECs) determined for 4,4′-DDE (20 µmol/L), PCB 138 (20 µmol/L), PCB 180 (21 µmol/L), and trans-nonachlor (3 µmol/L) in the E-Screen were greater than estimated dolphin blood concentrations. Although estimated blood concentrations were below the LOECs, significant estrogenic activity was detected in diluted dolphin blubber from Cape May, NJ and Bermuda. Positive correlations between blubber estrogenicity and select POP concentrations (ΣDDTs, ΣPBDEs, ΣHCB, Σestrogenic PCBs, Σestrogenic POPs) were also observed. Collectively, these results suggest that select bottlenose dolphin populations may be exposed to contaminants that act in concert to exert estrogenic effects at biologically relevant concentrations. These observations do not necessarily provide direct evidence of endocrine disruption; however, they may indicate an environmental source of xenoestrogenic exposure warranting future research. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2010;29:2143–2153. © 2010 SETAC