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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 208:205-216 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps208205

Delayed effects on growth and marine survival of pink salmon Oncorhynchus gorbuscha after exposure to crude oil during embryonic development

Ron A. Heintz*, Stanley D. Rice, Alex C. Wertheimer, Robert F. Bradshaw, Frank P. Thrower, John E. Joyce, Jeffrey W. Short

US National Marine Fisheries Service, Auke Bay Laboratory, 11305 Glacier Hwy, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA

ABSTRACT: We report delayed effects on the growth and marine survival of pink salmon Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, which were exposed to oil as embryos under conditions similar to those observed after the ŒExxon Valdez¹ oil spill. Pink salmon eggs were incubated in water that became contaminated with polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) after percolating through gravel coated with weathered oil. Weathering ensured that the PAH composition of the water was dominated by alkyl-substituted naphthalenes and larger compounds. Most survivors of the exposures appeared healthy, and were released to the marine environment with coded-wire tags. Their survival was evaluated when they returned at maturity 2 yr later. Other survivors, also healthy in appearance, were retained in net pens to measure delayed effects on growth during the early juvenile stage. Pink salmon exposed to an initial concentration of total PAH equal to 5.4 ppb experienced a 15% decrease in marine survival compared to unexposed salmon. A delayed effect on growth was measured in juvenile salmon that survived embryonic exposure to doses as low as 18 ppb PAH. Reductions in juvenile growth could account for the reduced marine survival observed in the released fish. The demonstration of delayed effects on growth and survival support claims of delayed effects in pink salmon after the ŒExxon Valdez¹ oil spill, and indicate the potential for population-level effects resulting from embryonic exposure to oil.

KEY WORDS: Exxon Valdez · PAH · Pink salmon · Toxicity testing · Oil pollution · Delayed effects

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