MEPS 281:283-295 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps281283

Ecological and pathological factors related to trace metal concentrations in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the North Sea and adjacent areas

Krishna Das1,2,*, Ursula Siebert2, Michaël Fontaine1, Thierry Jauniaux3, Ludo Holsbeek4, Jean-Marie Bouquegneau1

1Marine Research Center (MARE), Laboratory for Oceanology, B6c, Liège University, 4000 Liège, Belgium 2Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, Werftstraße 6, 25761 Büsum, Germany 3Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, B43 Liège University, 4000 Liège, Belgium 4Laboratory for Ecotoxicology, Free University of Brussels, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

ABSTRACT: There is growing concern about the health status of the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena in the North Sea and adjacent areas. The interaction between toxicological results (Zn, Cd, Cu, Fe, Se, Hg), stable isotope data (δ13C and δ15N) and the most common pathological findings, namely emaciation and lesions of the respiratory system, were investigated in 132 porpoises collected along the coasts of northern France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Iceland and Norway between 1994 and 2001. The body condition of harbour porpoises stranded on the French, Belgian and German coasts was poor compared to that of by-catch individuals from Iceland and Norway, as reflected by blubber thickness and hepatic to total body-mass ratio. High Zn and Hg concentrations were observed in some porpoises collected along the southern North Sea coast compared to by-catch individuals from Iceland, Norway and the Baltic Sea. Increasing Zn levels were observed with deteriorating health condition (emaciation and bronchopneumonia), while Hg increases were not significant. The increases were not related to shrinking liver mass which remained unchanged. These observations indicate a general redistribution of trace metals within the organs (muscles and blubber to liver), as a result of protein and lipid catabolism. Muscle δ13C and δ15N values remained unchanged with deteriorating body condition. Cd concentrations were associated only with age and low δ15N values, indicating that high Cd concentrations in Iceland and Norway porpoises may be partly diet-related, i.e. a result of Cd contaminated prey.

KEY WORDS: North Sea · Marine mammals · Stable isotopes · Heavy metals · Harbour porpoise · Health status

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