Mercury Concentrations in Hair from Neonatal and Juvenile Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus): Implications Based on Age and Region in this Northern Pacific Marine Sentinel Piscivore
Mercury is a global contaminant of concern for the fetus and the neonate of piscivores. Methylmercury, produced within marine ecosystems, is of particular concern as a readily absorbed neurotoxicant transported across the blood brain barrier and transplacentally. In the North Pacific Ocean, Steller sea lions are broadly distributed apex predators and, as such, integrate complex food webs and the associated exposure and possible adverse effects of toxic and infectious agents. Hair, including lanugo, was examined using regional and age groupings to assess mercury concentrations in young Alaskan Steller sea lions. The highest concentrations of mercury occurred in the youngest animals, likely via in utero exposure. Based on the adverse developmental outcomes of methylmercury toxicity this specific cohort is of concern. Regionally, higher concentrations of mercury were observed in the endangered western population of Steller sea lions and mirrored patterns observed in human biomonitoring studies of Alaskan coastal communities. These data have broader implications with respect to human and ecosystem health as Steller sea lions rely on similar prey species and foraging areas as those targeted by commercial fisheries and subsistence users and are therefore valuable sentinels of marine ecosystem health.
Keywordsmercury methylmercury hair neonate pup marine sentinel Steller sea lion toxicology ecotoxicology ecosystem health
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