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Keywords:

  • Dolphin;
  • Metabolism;
  • Life history;
  • Persistent organic pollutant;
  • Northwest Atlantic Ocean

Abstract

Assessing the trends of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in cetaceans is difficult because of age and gender influences on accumulation. Persistent organic pollutants bioaccumulate and are poorly metabolized; hence, concentrations may increase with age in males while females reduce their POP burden through parturition and lactation. Age and gender effects on contaminant concentrations are species specific because of life history and reproductive strategies. These influences must be understood in order to elucidate and assess lifetime POP exposure. The objectives of this study were to determine baseline POP concentrations in blubber samples from the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) and to investigate life history and other influences, such as metabolism, on these concentrations. Forty-seven L. acutus blubber samples collected from mass stranding events in Massachusetts, USA (1993–2000), and archived in the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gaithersburg, MD, USA) were analyzed for 55 polychlorinated biphenyl congeners (PCB; 55 congeners), five polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) congeners, and organochlorine pesticides (toxaphene, DDT and metabolites, mirex, dieldrin, chlordanes, hexachlorocyclohexanes, hexachlorobenzene, and endosulfans) by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Ages for 19 animals were determined from growth layer groups on decalcified, stained thin tooth sections. Total PCBs (ΣPCB; sum of 55 congeners) were the contaminants present in the highest concentrations in all age classes (0.5–63 μg/g wet mass) followed by sum of DDTs (0.50–43 μg/g wet mass), toxaphene (0.055–31 μg/g wet mass), chlordanes (0.30–24 μg/g wet mass), and PBDEs (0.12–4.0 μg/g wet mass). Body length had a greater statistical influence than age on contaminant burdens in L. acutus. Contaminant burdens decreased with length in both male and female L. acutus, suggesting metabolic elimination and/or growth dilution in males and off-loading via lactation in females.