ESR 22:213-223 (2013)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00545

Levels of persistent organic pollutants in eastern North Atlantic humpback whales

Conor Ryan1,2,10,*, Brendan McHugh3, Brian Boyle3, Evin McGovern3, Martine Bérubé4, Pedro Lopez-Suárez5, Cristiane T. Elfes6, Daryle T. Boyd7, Gina M. Ylitalo7, Glenn R. Van Blaricom7, Phillip J. Clapham8, Jooke Robbins9, Per J. Palsbøll4, Ian O’Connor1, Simon D. Berrow1,2

1Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, Department of Life Sciences, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Galway, Ireland
2Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Merchant’s Quay, Kilrush, Co. Clare, Ireland
3Marine Institute, Rinville, Oranmore, Co. Galway, Ireland
4Marine Evolution and Conservation, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen, The Netherlands
5Naturalia Cape Verde Lda., Sal-Rei, Boa Vista, Republic of Cape Verde
6Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA
7Environmental Conservation Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, 2725 Montlake Blvd. E., Seattle, Washington 98112, USA
8NOAA, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Sand Point Way Northeast, Seattle, Washington 98112, USA
9Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, 5 Holway Avenue, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, USA
10Present address: Marine Conservation Research, 1 High St., Colchester CO5 9AG, UK

ABSTRACT: Blubber lipid concentrations of 14 organochlorine compounds and 10 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) were measured by gas chromatography with electron-capture detection in eastern North Atlantic humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae from Cape Verde (n = 20) and Ireland (n = 4). Concentrations were statistically compared to those from 20 samples collected from the Gulf of Maine in the western North Atlantic. Pollutant burdens were compared using males only, in order to circumvent biases associated with reproductive offloading. Lipid-normalised PCB concentrations were below the estimated threshold toxicity value of 17000 ng g-1 for blubber in marine mammals. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), PCB and chlordane concentrations were an order of magnitude lower than those previously reported for Gulf of Maine humpback whales and higher than those reported from the North Pacific Ocean. Higher concentrations of lower-chlorinated PCB congeners (28, 31 and 52), hexachlorocyclohexanes and hexachlorobenzene in males in eastern North Atlantic sites is consistent with higher latitude feeding grounds. Lower p,p’-DDE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane):ΣDDT ratios suggest that whales from the eastern North Atlantic harbour more recent inputs of DDT. The ΣDDTs:ΣPCBs ratio was higher for males from Cape Verde (1.69) and Ireland (1.44), indicating proportionately greater sources of agricultural rather than industrial sources of pollutants than for the Gulf of Maine whales (0.75). We demonstrate potential for persistent organochlorine pollutants (POPs) as tracers to determine foraging ground provenance for samples collected on breeding grounds in the North Atlantic. Low concentrations suggest that POPs are unlikely to be a factor in the poor recovery rate of humpback whales in Cape Verde.


KEY WORDS: Intrinsic markers · Blubber · Biopsy · PCB · DDT · Migration · Population structure · Cape Verde


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Cite this article as: Ryan C, McHugh B, Boyle B, McGovern E and others (2013) Levels of persistent organic pollutants in eastern North Atlantic humpback whales. Endang Species Res 22:213-223. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00545

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