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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 460:145-153 (2012)  -  DOI:

Saxitoxin exposure in an endangered fish: association of a shortnose sturgeon mortality event with a harmful algal bloom

Spencer E. Fire1,*, Jessica Pruden2, Darcie Couture3, Zhihong Wang1, Marie-Yasmine Dechraoui Bottein1, Bennie L. Haynes1, Trey Knott1, Deborah Bouchard4, Anne Lichtenwalner4, Gail Wippelhauser5

1Marine Biotoxins Program, NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston, South Carolina 29412, USA
2Northeast Region Shortnose Sturgeon Recovery Program, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01930, USA
3Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program, Maine Dept. of Marine Resources, West Boothbay Harbor, Maine 04575, USA
4University of Maine Animal Health Laboratory, Dept. of Animal and Veterinary Science/Cooperative Extension, Orono, Maine 04469, USA
5Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat, Maine Dept. of Marine Resources, Augusta, Maine 04333, USA

ABSTRACT: Saxitoxin (STX)-producing blooms of the toxic dinoflagellate genus Alexandrium have been responsible for devastating ecosystem-wide impacts in coastal waters of the northeastern USA. In the summer of 2009, a severe Alexandrium bloom in New England coastal waters co-occurred with a shortnose sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum mortality event in Sagadahoc Bay, Maine, USA. Thirteen individuals of this endangered fish species were found dead on 10 July 2009, and this die-off was associated with extremely high Alexandrium cell densities, record-breaking toxin burdens (>80000 ng g−1) in shellfish, and closures of shellfish beds affecting nearly the entire Maine coastline. STX-like activity was detected in sturgeon (n = 3) stomach contents and liver and gill tissues via neuroblastoma assay and receptor-binding assay at concentrations ranging between 37 and 2300 ng STX-eq. g−1 (STX equivalents per gram sample). Stomach content analyses of the 3 necropsied sturgeon carcasses showed a large number of amethyst gem clams Gemma gemma. Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry confirmed the presence of STX and related congeners in sturgeon stomach contents, at concentrations between 311 and 743 ng g−1. The present study marks the first reported detection of STXs in shortnose sturgeon, and provides evidence of trophic transfer of Alexandrium toxins as a potential cause of mortality in this event, as well as a threat to the health of this endangered population of fish.

KEY WORDS: Saxitoxin · Sturgeon · Harmful algal bloom · Paralytic shellfish toxin · HAB · Acipenser brevirostrum · Maine

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Cite this article as: Fire SE, Pruden J, Couture D, Wang Z and others (2012) Saxitoxin exposure in an endangered fish: association of a shortnose sturgeon mortality event with a harmful algal bloom. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 460:145-153.

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