Trace Element Concentrations in Liver of 16 Species of Cetaceans Stranded on Pacific Islands from 1997 through 2013

  • Angela M. K. Hansen
  • Colleen E. BryanEmail author
  • Kristi West
  • Brenda A. Jensen


The impacts of anthropogenic contaminants on marine ecosystems are a concern worldwide. Anthropogenic activities can enrich trace elements in marine biota to concentrations that may negatively impact organism health. Exposure to elevated concentrations of trace elements is considered a contributing factor in marine mammal population declines. Hawai’i is an increasingly important geographic location for global monitoring, yet trace element concentrations have not been quantified in Hawaiian cetaceans, and there is little trace element data for Pacific cetaceans. This study measured trace elements (Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, As, Se, Sr, Cd, Sn, Hg, and Pb) in liver of 16 species of cetaceans that stranded on U.S. Pacific Islands from 1997 to 2013, using high resolution inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (HR-ICP-MS) (n = 31), and direct mercury analysis atomic absorption spectrometry (DMA-AAS) (n = 43). Concentration ranges (μg/g wet mass fraction) for non-essential trace elements, such as Cd (0.0031–58.93) and Hg (0.0062–1571.75) were much greater than essential trace elements, such as Mn (0.590–17.31) and Zn (14.72–245.38). Differences were found among age classes in Cu, Zn, Hg, and Se concentrations. The highest concentrations of Se, Cd, Sn, Hg, and Pb were found in one adult female false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) at concentrations that are known to affect health in marine mammals. The results of this study establish initial trace element concentration ranges for Pacific cetaceans in the Hawaiian Islands region, provide insights into contaminant exposure of these marine mammals, and contribute to a greater understanding of anthropogenic impacts in the Pacific Ocean.


Marine Mammal Trace Element Concentration Killer Whale Bottlenose Dolphin Beaked Whale 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors acknowledge the support of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Hawai’i Pacific University’s Graduate Trustee’s Scholarship program. Samples were provided by the Hawai’i Pacific University Marine Mammal Stranding Response Program, funded in part by the NOAA John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program. The authors also thank Dr. Eric Vetter and Dr. David Hyrenbach of Hawaii Pacific University for providing advice regarding statistical analyses.


Certain commercial products and instruments are identified in this paper to adequately specify the experimental procedures. Such identification does not imply recommendation or endorsement by National Institute of Standards and Technology, nor does it imply that the items mentioned are the best for the intended purpose.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest


Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 92 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angela M. K. Hansen
    • 1
  • Colleen E. Bryan
    • 2
    Email author
  • Kristi West
    • 1
  • Brenda A. Jensen
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Natural and Computational ScienceHawaii Pacific UniversityKaneoheUSA
  2. 2.Chemical Sciences Division, Hollings Marine LaboratoryNational Institute of Standards and TechnologyCharlestonUSA

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