Sublethal concentrations of mercury in river otters: Monitoring environmental contamination

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Hair, muscle, and liver mercury concentrations were determined in river otter (Lutra canadensis) carcasses collected from the lower coastal plain and piedmont of Georgia. Mean muscle and hair mercury concentrations were greater (P<0.001) in otters from the lower coastal plain (4.42 and 24.25 mg/kg wet wt, respectively) compared to otters from the piedmont (1.48 and 15.24 mg/kg, respectively). Liver tissue from lower coastal plain otters averaged 7.53 mg/kg mercury. Mean fetus brain and muscle mercury concentrations were 1.03 and 1.58 mg/kg wet wt, respectively, and fetal muscle mercury concentrations were correlated (r=0.92) with maternal muscle mercury concentrations. Comparison of mercury concentrations found in Georgia otters to those associated with adverse effects in otter and mink (Mustela vison), indicate sublethal contamination with concentrations in some individuals approaching that observed in experimentally dosed individuals that developed clinical signs of mercurialism. Mercury concentrations in fish from the lower coastal plain approached or exceeded concentrations demonstrated to be toxic to experimentally dosed otters.