Evaluating Hair as a Predictor of Blood Mercury: The Influence of Ontogenetic Phase and Life History in Pinnipeds

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Abstract

Mercury (Hg) biomonitoring of pinnipeds increasingly utilizes nonlethally collected tissues such as hair and blood. The relationship between total Hg concentrations ([THg]) in these tissues is not well understood for marine mammals, but it can be important for interpretation of tissue concentrations with respect to ecotoxicology and biomonitoring. We examined [THg] in blood and hair in multiple age classes of four pinniped species. For each species, we used paired blood and hair samples to quantify the ability of [THg] in hair to predict [THg] in blood at the time of sampling and examined the influence of varying ontogenetic phases and life history of the sampled animals. Overall, we found that the relationship between [THg] in hair and blood was affected by factors including age class, weaning status, growth, and the time difference between hair growth and sample collection. Hair [THg] was moderately to strongly predictive of current blood [THg] for adult female Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), adult female California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), and adult harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), whereas hair [THg] was poorly predictive or not predictive (different times of year) of blood [THg] for adult northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). Within species, except for very young pups, hair [THg] was a weaker predictor of blood [THg] for prereproductive animals than for adults likely due to growth, variability in foraging behavior, and transitions between ontogenetic phases. Our results indicate that the relationship between hair [THg] and blood [THg] in pinnipeds is variable and that ontogenetic phase and life history should be considered when interpreting [THg] in these tissues.

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Peterson, S. H., McHuron, E. A., Kennedy, S. N., Ackerman, J. T., Rea, L. D., Castellini, J. M., … Costa, D. P. (2016). Evaluating Hair as a Predictor of Blood Mercury: The Influence of Ontogenetic Phase and Life History in Pinnipeds. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 70(1), 28–45. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-015-0174-3

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