Environmental research

Mobilisation of lipophilic pollutants from blubber in northern elephant seal pups (Mirounga angustirostris) during the post-weaning fast.

PMID 24858284


Northern elephant seals (NES) (Mirounga angustirostris) from the Año Nuevo State Reserve (CA, USA) were longitudinally sampled during the post-weaning fast in order to study the mobilisation and redistribution of various classes of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (p,p'-DDE) and hexachlorobenzene (HCB) between blubber and blood. Inner and outer blubber layers were analysed separately. Organohalogenated compounds were detected in all blubber samples in the decreasing order of their concentrations: p,p'-DDE > PCBs ⪢ HCB > PBDEs. The concentrations of all studied compounds were homogeneously distributed in the blubber layer at early fast, since the concentrations of POPs were statistically not different in the inner and outer layers. With the progression of the fast, the concentrations of PBDEs, PCBs and p,p'-DDE increased more sharply in inner blubber than in outer blubber. As a result, their levels became significantly higher in inner blubber as compared to outer blubber at late fast. The rise of pollutant concentrations in blubber might result from a less efficient mobilisation than triglycerides and/or a reuptake by adipocytes of some of the pollutants released into the circulation. The mobilisation of pollutants from blubber was higher at late fast. An increase of pollutant concentrations was observed in serum between early and late fast. Lower halogenated congeners (i.e. tetra-CBs) were present in higher proportions in serum, whereas the higher halogenated congeners (i.e. hepta-CBs) were mainly found in the inner and outer blubber layers. The transfer ratios of both PBDEs and PCBs from inner blubber to serum decreased with the number of chlorine and bromine atoms. In addition, the distribution of both types of compounds between serum and blubber was strongly influenced by their lipophilic character (logKow values), with more lipophilic compounds being less efficiently released from blubber to serum.