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Keywords:

  • mercury;
  • methylmercury;
  • stranding;
  • muscle;
  • heavy metal;
  • Steller sea lion;
  • elephant seal;
  • California sea lion;
  • harbor seal;
  • harbor porpoise

Abstract

Muscle samples from 105 marine mammals stranded along the Oregon and Washington coasts (2002–2009) were tested for levels of total mercury (THg) by Cold Vapor Atomic Fluorescence Spectrometry. The THg present is in the form of the highly toxic methylmercury. After normalizing tissue to 75% water weight, Steller sea lions and northern elephant seals exhibited the highest mean concentrations of THg followed by harbor seals, harbor porpoises, and California sea lions, 0.34 ± 0.278, 0.34 ± 0.485, 0.21 ± 0.216, 0.17 ± 0.169, and 0.15 ± 0.126 mg/kg normalized wet weight (ww), respectively. The mean normalized values demonstrate limited muscle methylmercury accumulation in these species in the Pacific Northwest. However, actual ww concentrations in some of the stranded carcasses may pose a risk to scavengers. Normalizing muscle mercury concentrations eliminated the variability from desiccation, and allowed for a clearer indication of the amount of mercury the animal accumulated before stranding.