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Keywords:

  • Killer whale;
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls;
  • Pesticides;
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers;
  • Accumulation

Abstract

Blubber tissue of one subadult and eight male adult killer whales was sampled in Northern Norway in order to assess the degree and type of contaminant exposure and transfer in the herring–killer whale link of the marine food web. A comprehensive selection of contaminants was targeted, with special attention to toxaphenes and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). In addition to assessing exposure and food chain transfer, selective accumulation and metabolism issues also were addressed. Average total polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and pesticide levels were similar, approximately 25 μg/g lipid, and PBDEs were approximately 0.5 μg/g. This makes killer whales one of the most polluted arctic animals, with levels exceeding those in polar bears. Comparing the contamination of the killer whale's diet with the diet of high-arctic species such as white whales reveals six to more than 20 times higher levels in the killer whale diet. The difference in contaminant pattern between killer whales and their prey and the metabolic index calculated suggested that these cetaceans have a relatively high capacity to metabolize contaminants. Polychlorinated biphenyls, chlordanes, and dichlorodiphenyldichloro-ethylene (DDE) accumulate to some degree in killer whales, although toxaphenes and PBDEs might be partly broken down.