Trace Element Concentrations in Livers of Polar Bears from Two Populations in Northern and Western Alaska

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Abstract

Concentrations of 20 trace elements (V, Cr, Mn, Co, Cu, Zn, Rb, Sr, Mo, Ag, Cd, In, Sn, Sb, Cs, Ba, Hg, Tl, Pb, and Bi) were measured in livers of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) collected from Northern and Western Alaska from 1993 to 2002 to examine differences in the profiles of trace metals between the Beaufort Sea (Northern Alaska) and the Chukchi Sea (Western Alaska) subpopulations in Alaska. Among the trace elements analyzed, concentrations of Cu (50–290 µg/g, dry wt) in polar bear livers were in the higher range of values that have been reported for marine mammals. Concentrations of Hg in polar bears varied widely, from 3.5 to 99 µg/g dry wt, and the mean concentrations in polar bears were comparable to concentrations reported previously for several other species of marine mammals. Mean concentrations of Pb and Cd were 0.67 and 1.0 µg/g dry wt, respectively; these concentrations were lower than levels reported elsewhere for polar bears from Greenland and Canada. Age- and gender-related variations in the concentrations of trace elements in our polar bears were minimal. Concentrations of Hg decreased slowly in samples collected during 1993–2002, whereas Cd and Pb concentrations were found to be stable or slowly increasing, in the livers of Alaskan polar bears. Concentrations of Ag, Bi, Ba, Cu, and Sn were significantly higher in the Chukchi Sea subpopulation than in the Beaufort Sea subpopulation. Concentrations of Hg were significantly higher in the Beaufort Sea subpopulation than in the Chukchi Sea subpopulation. Differences in the profiles and concentrations of Hg, Ag, Bi, Ba, Cu, and Sn suggest that the sources of exposure to these trace elements between Western and Northern Alaskan polar bears are different, in agreement with findings reported earlier for several organic contaminants.