Evaluating Hair as a Predictor of Blood Mercury: The Influence of Ontogenetic Phase and Life History in Pinnipeds

Abstract

Mercury (Hg) biomonitoring of pinnipeds increasingly utilizes nonlethally collected tissues such as hair and blood. The relationship between total Hg concentrations ([THg]) in these tissues is not well understood for marine mammals, but it can be important for interpretation of tissue concentrations with respect to ecotoxicology and biomonitoring. We examined [THg] in blood and hair in multiple age classes of four pinniped species. For each species, we used paired blood and hair samples to quantify the ability of [THg] in hair to predict [THg] in blood at the time of sampling and examined the influence of varying ontogenetic phases and life history of the sampled animals. Overall, we found that the relationship between [THg] in hair and blood was affected by factors including age class, weaning status, growth, and the time difference between hair growth and sample collection. Hair [THg] was moderately to strongly predictive of current blood [THg] for adult female Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), adult female California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), and adult harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), whereas hair [THg] was poorly predictive or not predictive (different times of year) of blood [THg] for adult northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). Within species, except for very young pups, hair [THg] was a weaker predictor of blood [THg] for prereproductive animals than for adults likely due to growth, variability in foraging behavior, and transitions between ontogenetic phases. Our results indicate that the relationship between hair [THg] and blood [THg] in pinnipeds is variable and that ontogenetic phase and life history should be considered when interpreting [THg] in these tissues.

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Acknowledgments

Animals were handled under National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) permit no. 14636 (northern elephant seals), NMFS permit no. 555-1870 and 373-1686 (harbor seals), United States Fish and Wildlife permit no. 81640-2009-041 and 81640-2011-002 (harbor seals), National Park Service permit no. PORE-2011-SCI-0003 (harbor seals), NMFS permit no. 17952, 14676, 16087, and 17115 (California sea lions), NMFS permit no. 358-1769, 358-1888, 14325, and 14325 (Steller sea lions), and approved Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocols from the University of California, Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. We thank the many volunteers, students, and technicians who made this work possible. We especially thank J. Harvey, P. Ponganis, M. Tift, K. Prager, J. Lloyd-Smith, L. Correa, A. Grimes, G. Johnson, J. Harley, A. Christ, P. Robinson, C. Goetsch, X. Rojas-Rocha, D. Crocker, P. Morris, the rangers at Año Nuevo State Reserve, S. Melin, R. DeLong, and J. Harris, as well as the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (Alaska Fisheries Science Center/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for support. Financial support was provided by funds to S. H. P. and E. A. M from the Friends of Long Marine Laboratory, the Earl and Ethel Myers Oceanographic and Marine Biology Trust, the PADI Foundation, the University of California Natural Reserve System Mildred Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant Program, the Rebecca and Steve Sooy Graduate Fellowship in Marine Mammals, the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation Northern California Chapter, Grant no. N00014-13-1-0134 and N00014-10-1-0356 to D. P. C. from the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center to J. T. A, and by NOAA cooperative agreement funds to L. D. R., T. M. O., and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game through Grant no. NA13NMF4720041. The use of trade, product, or firm names in the publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the United States government.

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Peterson, S.H., McHuron, E.A., Kennedy, S.N. et al. Evaluating Hair as a Predictor of Blood Mercury: The Influence of Ontogenetic Phase and Life History in Pinnipeds. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 70, 28–45 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-015-0174-3

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Keywords

  • Harbor Seal
  • Elephant Seal
  • Northern Elephant Seal
  • Keratinized Tissue
  • Pinniped Species