Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 4163–4176 | Cite as

Trophic transfer and accumulation of mercury in ray species in coastal waters affected by historic mercury mining (Gulf of Trieste, northern Adriatic Sea)

  • Milena HorvatEmail author
  • Nina Degenek
  • Lovrenc Lipej
  • Janja Snoj Tratnik
  • Jadran Faganeli
Heavy Metals in the Environment : Sources, Interactions and Human Health


Total mercury (Hg) and monomethylmercury (MMHg) were analysed in the gills, liver and muscle of four cartilaginous fish species (top predators), namely, the eagle ray (Myliobatis aquila), the bull ray (Pteromylaeus bovinus), the pelagic stingray (Dasyatis violacea) and the common stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca), collected in the Gulf of Trieste, one of the most Hg-polluted areas in the Mediterranean and worldwide due to past mining activity in Idrija (West Slovenia). The highest Hg and MMHg concentrations expressed on a dry weight (d.w.) basis were found in the muscle of the pelagic stingray (mean, 2.529 mg/kg; range, 1.179–4.398 mg/kg, d.w.), followed by the bull ray (mean, 1.582 mg/kg; range, 0.129–3.050 mg/kg d.w.) and the eagle ray (mean, 0.222 mg/kg; range, 0.070–0.467 mg/kg, d.w.). Only one specimen of the common stingray was analysed, with a mean value in the muscle of 1.596 mg/kg, d.w. Hg and MMHg contents in the bull ray were found to be positively correlated with species length and weight. The highest MMHg accumulation was found in muscle tissue. Hg and MMHg were also found in two embryos of a bull ray, indicating Hg transfer from the mother during pregnancy. The number of specimens and the size coverage of the bull rays allowed an assessment of Hg accumulation with age. It was shown that in bigger bull ray specimens, the high uptake of inorganic Hg in the liver and the slower MMHg increase in the muscle were most probably due to the demethylation of MMHg in the liver. The highest Hg and MMHg contents in all organs were found in the pelagic stingray, which first appeared in the northern Adriatic in 1999. High Hg and MMHg concentrations were also found in prey species such as the banded murex (Hexaplex trunculus), the principal prey of the eagle rays and bull rays, the anchovy (Engraulis encrasicholus) and the red bandfish (Cepola rubescens), which are preyed upon by the pelagic stingray, as well as in zooplankton and seawater. Based on previously published data, a tentative estimation of MMHg bioamagnification was established. The average increase in MMHg between seawater, including phytoplankton, and zooplankton in the Gulf was about 104, and MMHg in anchovy was about 50-fold higher than in zooplankton. The bioaccumulation of MMHg between seawater and small pelagic fish (anchovy) amounted to 106 and between water and the muscle of larger pelagic fish (pelagic stingray) to 107. The MMHg increase between surface sediment and benthic invertebrates (murex) and between benthic invertebrates and small benthic fish was 102. Ultimately, the trophic transfer resulted in a 103 accumulation of MMHg between water and muscle of larger benthic fish (bull ray, eagle ray, common stingray), suggesting lower bioaccumulation by benthic feeding species.


Mercury Methylmercury Fish Rays Bioaccumulation Northern Adriatic 



The work was supported by the Slovenian Agency for Research through the programme P1-0143 and the project J1-2136. Partially, the 7 FP EU ArcRisk also supported the work. Linguistic corrections and editing by Dr. A.R. Byrne are also acknowledged.

Supplementary material

11356_2013_2262_MOESM1_ESM.docx (79 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 79 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Milena Horvat
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Nina Degenek
    • 3
  • Lovrenc Lipej
    • 3
  • Janja Snoj Tratnik
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jadran Faganeli
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesJožef Stefan InstituteLjubljanaSlovenia
  2. 2.International Postgraduate School Jožef StefanLjubljanaSlovenia
  3. 3.Marine Biological StationNational Institute of BiologyPiranSlovenia

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