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Analysis of Heavy Metal Concentration in Various Tissues of Ringed and Bearded Seals of the Alaska Arctic

Debby Burnett and Gerald Bratton, D.V.M.,Ph.D.


Marine mammals have been shown to have concentrations of heavy metals in their tissues that are significantly higher than domestic mammals.  Unfortunately, due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, it has been difficult to gather data on marine mammals in order to evaluate the consequences of such metal burdens.  Over the last decade, scientists and the Inuit of the Arctic North Slope have established a unique partnership that enables the sampling of subsistence-harvested marine mammals.  Such sampling allows for the establishment of baseline data as it relates to normal tissue residues, disease prevalence, blood profiles and immune system health.

Samples of kidney, liver, blubber and muscle were taken from subsistence-harvested ringed seals (Phoca hispida) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) in the community of Barrow, Alaska during the month of July 2001.  These samples were immediately frozen and then later subsampled following the exact protocol published by Becker et al, 1999.  All samples will be analyzed for selected heavy metals, such as silver, selenium, cadmium, copper, zinc, arsenic and others.

Results from these samples are not available at this date.  Once the analyses are completed, they will be compared to previous years' data to aid in establishing base line information and to help interpret any possible trends in contamination burden that may exist.