Researchers from the University of California - Santa Cruz found that Elephant seals are not only a bioindicator for their environment but a significant source for methylmercury themselves. Methylmercury, previously taken up by the animals is returned to the water with the seals’ excreta and fur during the molting season, which contributes to the high levels of mercury in the in coastal waters near the elephant seal rookery at Año Nuevo State Reserve.
"Many studies have looked at biomagnification up the food chain, and we took that a step further to see what happens next. Mercury is an element, so it never breaks down and goes away -- it just changes forms," Jennifer Cossaboon, first author and graduate student in environmental health at San Diego State University, said in a news release. “Elephant seals undergo a catastrophic moult (which) comes off in big sheets of fur and the top few layers of skin”, explaines Jennifer Cossaboon.
A 1981 study by coauthor Russell Flegal, professor of microbiology and environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz, had found elevated mercury concentrations in mussels near large colonies of seals and sea lions at Año Nuevo and San Miguel Island.
"At that time, we didn't have the analytical instruments to detect mercury at the concentrations found in seawater, so we used mussels, which filter seawater, as sentinel organisms," Flegal said. "In the new study, we were able to look at seasonal changes in the water, and during the elephant seal molting season the levels of methyl mercury really took off."
Compared to other coastal sites, the concentration of methyl mercury in the seawater at Año Nuevo was twice as high during the breeding season and 17 times higher during the molting season.
Source: Press release University of California - Santa Cruz
from Sep. 7, 2015 The original study
Jennifer M. Cossaboon, Priya M. Ganguli, A. Russell Flegal, Mercury offloaded in Northern elephant seal hair affects coastal seawater surrounding rookery
, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 2015: doi: 10.1073/pnas.1506520112
Related studies (newest first)
Nicole David, Lester J. McKee, Frank J. Black, A. Russell Flegal, Christopher H. Conaway, David H. Schoellhamer, Neil K. Ganju, Mercury Concentrations and Loads in a Large River System Tributary to San Francisco Bay, California, USA
, Environ. Toxicol. Chem., 28/10 (2009) 2091–2100. available from USGS
Christopher H. Conaway, Frank J. Black, Thomas M. Grieb, Sujoy Roy, A. Russell Flegal, Mercury in the San Francisco Estuary
, Rev. Environ. Contam. Toxicol., 194 (2008) 29-54. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-74816-0_2
Laszlo Magos, Thomas W. Clarkson, The assessment of the contribution of hair to methyl mercury excretion
, Toxicol. Lett., 182 (2008) 48–49. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2008.08.010
Fernando Elorriaga-Verplancken, David Aurioles-Gamboa, Trace Metal Concentrations in the Hair of Zalophus californianus Pups and their Relation to Feeding Habits,
Biol. Trace Elem. Res., 126 (2008) 148–164. doi: 10.1007/s12011-008-8186-8
Elsie M. Sunderland, Robert P. Mason, Human impacts on open ocean mercury concentrations
, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 21 (2007) GB4022. doi: 10.1029/2006GB002876
Tiffini J. Brookens, James T. Harvey, Todd M. O'Hara, Trace element concentrations in the Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii) in central and northern California
, Sci. Total Environ., 372 (2007) 676–692. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2006.10.006
Francois M.M. Morel, Anne M.L. Kraepiel, Marc Amyot, The Chemical Cycle and Bioaccumulation of Mercury
, Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst., 29 (1998) 543–66. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.29.1.543
M.C. Fossi, L. Marsili, M. Junin, H. Castello, J.A. Lorenzani, S. Casini, C. Savelli, C. Leonzio, Use of nondestructive biomarkers and residue analysis to assess the health status of endangered species of pinnipeds in the south-west Atlantic
, Mar. Pollut. Bull., 34/3 (1997) 157–162. doi: 10.1016/S0025-326X(96)00073-2
C. Wenzel, D. Adelung, H. Kruse, O. Wassermann, Trace Metal Accumulation in Hair and Skin of the Harbour Seal, Phoca vitulina,
Mar. Pollut. Bull., 26/3 (1993) 152-155. doi: 10.1016/0025-326X(93)90126-5
A.R. Flegal, G.J. Smith, G.A. Gill, S. Sañudo-Wilhelmy, L.C.D. Anderson, Dissolved trace element cycles in the San Francisco Bay estuary
, Mar. Chem., 36/1–4 (1991) 329-363. doi: 10.1016/S0304-4203(09)90070-6
G.J. Bacher, Mercury Concentrations in the Australian Fur Seal Arctocephalus pusillus from SE Australian Waters
, Bull. Environ. Contain. Toxicol. (1985) 35:490-495. doi: 10.1007/BF01636543
A.R. Flegal, M. Stephenson, M. Martin and J.H. Martin, Elevated Concentrations of Mercury in Mussels (Mytilus californianus) Associated with Pinniped Colonies
, Mar. Biol., 65 (1981) 45-48. doi: 10.1007/BF00397066 Related EVISA Resources
Link Database: Toxicity of Organo-mercury compounds Link Database: Mercury exposure through the diet Link Database: Environmental cycling of methylmercury Link Database: Environmental cycling of inorganic mercury Link Database: Environmental pollution of methylmercury Link Database: Environmental pollution of inorganic mercury Link Database: Toxicity of mercury Brief summary: Atomic Fluorescence Spectrometry as a Detection System for Speciation Analysis Brief summary: Gas chromatography for the separation of elemental species Related EVISA News
September 2, 2014: Man is significantly contaminating oceans with mercury May 3, 2013: Standard methods for mercury speciation analysisJune 17, 2012: Factors Affecting Methylmercury Accumulation in the Food ChainAugust 16, 2010: Methylmercury: What have we learned from Minamata Bay?June 28, 2010: New Study Examines Why Mercury is More Dangerous in Oceans August 21, 2009: USGS Study Reveals Mercury Contamination in Fish NationwideMay 5, 2009: Ocean mercury on the riseFebruary 11, 2009: Mercury in Fish is a Global Health ConcernOctober 30, 2008: Precautionary approach to methylmercury neededMarch 11, 2007: Methylmercury contamination of fish warrants worldwide public warningOctober 9, 2006: Linking atmospheric mercury to methylmercury in fishSeptember 23, 2006: Report Finds Mercury Contamination Permeates Wildlife SystemsAugust 16, 2006: Mercury pollution threatens health worldwide, scientists say
last time modified: September 18, 2015