Concentrations of metals and trace elements in blood of spectacled and king eiders in northern Alaska, USA



In 1996, we measured concentrations of arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium in blood of adult king (Somateria spectabilis) and spectacled (Somateria fischeri) eiders and duckling spectacled eiders from northern Alaska, USA. Concentrations of selenium exceeded background levels in all adults sampled and 9 of 12 ducklings. Mercury was detected in all adult spectacled eiders and 5 of 12 ducklings. Lead concentrations were above the clinical toxicity threshold in one duckling (0.64 ppm) and two adult female spectacled eiders (0.54 and 4.30 ppm). Concentrations of cadmium and mercury varied between species; barium, cadmium, mercury, and selenium varied between sexes. In female spectacled eiders, mercury concentrations increased during the breeding season and barium and selenium levels decreased through the breeding season. Selenium declined at 2.3 ± 0.9% per day and levels were lower in spectacled eiders arriving to the breeding grounds in northern Alaska than in western Alaska. The variation in selenium levels between breeding areas may be explained by differences in timing and routes of spring migration. Most trace elements for which we tested were not at levels currently considered toxic to marine birds. However, the presence of mercury and elevated lead in ducklings and adult female spectacled eiders suggests these metals are available on the breeding grounds.