Spatial and temporal trends and effects of contaminants in the Canadian Arctic marine ecosystem: a review

  • Muir D
  • Braune B
  • DeMarch B
 et al. 
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Abstract

Recent studies have added substantially to our knowledge of spatial and temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals in the Canadian Arctic marine ecosystem. This paper reviews the current state of knowledge of contaminants in marine biota in the Canadian Arctic and where possible, discusses biological effects. The geographic coverage of information on contaminants such as persistent organochlorines (OCs) (PCBs, DDT- and chlordane-related compounds, hexachlorocyclohexanes, toxaphene) and heavy metals (mercury, selenium, cadmium, lead) in tissues of marine mammal and sea birds is relatively complete. Ah major beluga, ringed seal and polar bear stocks along with several major sea bird colonies have been sampled and analysed for OC and heavy metal contaminants. Studies on contaminants in walrus are limited to Fore Basin and northern Quebec stocks, while migratory harp seals have only been studied recently at one location. Contaminant measurements in bearded seal, harbour seal, bowhead whale and killer whale tissues from the Canadian Arctic are very limited or non-existent. Many of the temporal trend data for contaminants in Canadian Arctic biota are confounded by changes in analytical methodology, as well as by variability due to age/size, or to dietary and population shifts. Despite this, studies of OCs in ringed seal blubber at Holman Island and in sea birds at Prince Leopold Island in Lancaster Sound show declining concentrations of PCBs and DDT-related compounds from the 1970s to 1980s then a levelling off during the 1980s and early 1990s. For other OCs, such as chlordane, HCH and toxaphene, limited data for the 1980s to early 1990s suggests few significant declines in concentrations in marine mammals or sea birds. Temporal trend studies of heavy metals in ringed seals and beluga found higher mean concentrations of mercury in more recent (1993/1994) samples than in earlier collections (1981-1984 in eastern Arctic, 1972-1973 in western Arctic) for both species. Rates of accumulation of mercury are also higher in present day animals than 10-20 years ago. Cadmium concentrations in the same animals (eastern Arctic only) showed no change over a 10-year period. No temporal trend data are available for metals in sea birds or polar bears. There have been major advances in knowledge of specific biomarkers in Canadian Arctic biota over the past few years. The species with the most significant risk of exposure to PCBs and OC pesticides may be the polar bear which, based on comparison with EROD activity in other marine mammals (beluga, ringed seal), appears to have elevated CYP1A-mediated activity. The MFO enzyme data for polar bear, beluga and seals suggest that even the relatively low levels of contaminants present in Arctic animals may not be without biological effects, especially during years of poor feeding. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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Authors

  • D Muir

  • B Braune

  • B DeMarch

  • R Norstrom

  • R Wagemann

  • L Lockhart

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