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Case Studies on Longitudinal Mercury Content in Humpback Whale ( Megaptera Novaeangliae) Baleen

21 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2021 Publication Status: Published

See all articles by Carley Lowe

Carley Lowe

Northern Arizona University - Department of Biological Sciences

Renee Jordan Ward

Northern Arizona University - Department of Biological Sciences

Kathleen E. Hunt

George Mason University - Department of Biology; George Mason University

Matthew C. Rogers

Government of the United States of America - Alaska Fisheries Science Center Auke Bay Laboratories

Alexander J. Werth

Hampden-Sydney College

Christine M. Gabriele

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve - Humpback Whale Monitoring Program

Janet L. Neilson

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve - Humpback Whale Monitoring Program

Frank A. von Hippel

University of Arizona - Department of Community, Environment & Policy

C. Loren Buck

Northern Arizona University - Department of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Marine mammals often have exceedingly high levels of mercury due to their long lifespans and feeding strategies. Quantification of contaminant concentrations in baleen whales, some of the longest-lived marine mammals, is important for individual and population level health assessments but is difficult due to infrequent resightings and challenges associated with acquiring tissue samples (e.g., blubber). The use of baleen from dead whales allows for a multiyear retrospective analysis of contaminant concentrations without having to collect repeated samples from the same individual. Here we provide case studies of mercury analysis in three individual humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), a 44.5-year-old female and two males aged ≥35 and 66 years, over 3-4 years of baleen growth. Mercury concentrations in the baleen were consistently 2-3 times higher in the female than in either male. Age did not appear to affect mercury concentrations in baleen; the younger female had higher levels than the older male, and the ≥35-year-old male had levels similar to the 66-year-old male. In the female, mercury concentrations in the baleen did not change markedly during pregnancy but mercury did spike during the first half of lactation. Stable isotope profiles suggest that diet likely drove the female’s high mercury concentrations, highlighting that variations in baleen mercury content can be highly individualistic. Future studies should use archived and contemporary samples to compare different populations and species to determine how the concentrations of mercury and other contaminants vary by sex, life history parameters, geography, and time.

Keywords: marine, mammal, Mercury, toxicology, whale, physiology, baleen

Suggested Citation

Lowe, Carley and Ward, Renee Jordan and Hunt, Kathleen E. and Rogers, Matthew C. and Werth, Alexander J. and Gabriele, Christine M. and Neilson, Janet L. and von Hippel, Frank A. and Buck, C. Loren, Case Studies on Longitudinal Mercury Content in Humpback Whale ( Megaptera Novaeangliae) Baleen. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3946851 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3946851

Carley Lowe (Contact Author)

Northern Arizona University - Department of Biological Sciences ( email )

United States

Renee Jordan Ward

Northern Arizona University - Department of Biological Sciences ( email )

United States

Kathleen E. Hunt

George Mason University - Department of Biology ( email )

United States

George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

Matthew C. Rogers

Government of the United States of America - Alaska Fisheries Science Center Auke Bay Laboratories ( email )

United States

Alexander J. Werth

Hampden-Sydney College ( email )

Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943
United States

Christine M. Gabriele

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve - Humpback Whale Monitoring Program ( email )

Gustavus, AK
United States

Janet L. Neilson

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve - Humpback Whale Monitoring Program ( email )

Gustavus, AK
United States

Frank A. Von Hippel

University of Arizona - Department of Community, Environment & Policy ( email )

Tuczon, AZ 85724
United States

C. Loren Buck

Northern Arizona University - Department of Biological Sciences ( email )

United States

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