Albatross Species Demonstrate Regional Differences In North Pacific Marine Contamination


  • Corresponding Editor: P. K. Dayton.


Recent concern about negative effects on human health from elevated organochlorine and mercury concentrations in marine foods has highlighted the need to understand temporal and spatial patterns of marine pollution. Seabirds, long-lived pelagic predators with wide foraging ranges, can be used as indicators of regional contaminant patterns across large temporal and spatial scales. Here we evaluate contaminant levels, carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios, and satellite telemetry data from two sympatrically breeding North Pacific albatross species to demonstrate that (1) organochlorine and mercury contaminant levels are significantly higher in the California Current compared to levels in the high-latitude North Pacific and (2) levels of organochlorine contaminants in the North Pacific are increasing over time. Black-footed Albatrosses (Phoebastria nigripes) had 370–460% higher organochlorine (polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes [DDTs]) and mercury body burdens than a closely related species, the Laysan Albatross (P. immutabilis), primarily due to regional segregation of their North Pacific foraging areas. PCBs (the sum of the individual PCB congeners analyzed) and DDE concentrations in both albatross species were 130–360% higher than concentrations measured a decade ago. Our results demonstrate dramatically high and increasing contaminant concentrations in the eastern North Pacific Ocean, a finding relevant to other marine predators, including humans.