Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology

, Volume 56, Issue 3, pp 596-606

First online:

Mercury and Other Metals in Feathers of Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) and Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) from the Aleutian Chain of Alaska

  • Joanna BurgerAffiliated withDivision of Life Sciences, Rutgers UniversityConsortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP)Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) Email author 
  • , Michael GochfeldAffiliated withDivision of Life Sciences, Rutgers UniversityEnvironmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI)Environmental and Occupational Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

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We analyzed arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury, and selenium in the feathers of common eiders (Somateria mollissima) and tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) from Amchitka and Kiska islands (Aleutians). Between species, puffins had 10 times higher chromium (arithmetic mean = 1820 ppb), 7.5 times higher selenium (mean = 6600 ppb), and 3 times higher mercury (mean = 2540 ppb) than eiders. Eiders had significantly higher levels of manganese than puffins. Puffins are higher on the food chain than eiders, which is reflected in their generally higher levels of metals in their feathers. Interisland differences were generally small, and there were few significant differences as a function of the three nuclear test locations on Amchitka. The only sex-related difference was that female puffins had higher mercury than males (arithmetic mean of 3060 ppb vs. 2270 ppb). Mean levels of metals in the feathers of puffins and eiders from the Aleutians were low compared with comparable studies elsewhere, and the relatively low levels of metals do not indicate the potential for adverse behavioral or reproductive effects in the birds themselves, nor pose concern for other consumers, including subsistence hunters.