With oil pollution recognized as a major threat to British Columbia's recovering sea otter (Enhydra lutris) population, it is important to distinguish acute from chronic exposures to oil constituent groups in this marine mammal. Concentrations and patterns of alkanes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were determined in blood samples from 29 live-captured sea otters in two coastal areas of British Columbia, as well as in representative samples of their invertebrate prey. Hydrocarbon concentrations in sea otters were similar between areas and among age and sex classes, suggesting that metabolism dominates the fate of these compounds in sea otters. Biomagnification factors derived from PAH ratios in otter:prey supported this notion. Although some higher alkylated three- and four-ring PAHs appeared to biomagnify, the majority of PAHs did not. The apparent retention of alkyl PAHs was reflected in the composition of estimated sea otter body burdens, which provided an alternative way of evaluating hydrocarbon exposure. Alkyl PAHs made up 86 ± 9% of estimated body burdens (4,340 ± 2,950 µg), with no differences between males and females (p = 0.18). The importance of measuring both parent and alkyl PAHs is underscored by their divergent dynamics in sea otters, with ready depuration of parent PAHs (metabolized or excreted) by sea otters on the one hand and biomagnification of alkyl PAHs on the other. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011;30:2184–2193. © 2011 SETAC
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