Concentrations of organohalogens (PCBs, DDTs, PBDEs) in hunted and stranded Northern sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) in Alaska from 1992 to 2010: Links to pathology and feeding ecology Academic Article uri icon


  • Many organohalogen compounds (OHCs) are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) found in appreciable concentrations in marine predators. While production of some POPs has declined or ceased in recent decades, their capacity for global transport and bioaccumulation results in observations of unchanging or increasing concentrations in marine systems. Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) have been advocated as an environmental sentinel for contaminants due to their longevity, site fidelity and prey species that often overlap with human consumption. Using archived (1992-2010) samples of livers from Northern sea otters (n = 50) from Alaska we examine concentrations of chlordanes (CHLs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDTs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and associated metabolites. We found some evidence for declining ΣPCBs over the two decades, however for most animals concentrations were low compared to toxicological thresholds. Six animals had relatively high concentrations of ΣPCBs (mean = 262,000 ng/g lipid weight), ΣDDTs (mean = 8,800 ng/g lw), and ΣPBDEs (mean = 4,600 ng/g lw), with four of these six animals experiencing hepatic parasitism or hepatitis. In order to assess whether differences in POP concentrations are associated with feeding ecology, we examined stable isotopes of C and N in archived muscle and whisker samples. In general, there were no significant relationships between ΣPOP concentrations and stable isotope ratios. There were small differences in stable isotope profiles in animals with high POP concentrations, although it was unclear if these differences were due to feeding ecology or disease processes. This study highlights the importance of considering feeding ecology and necropsy (health and disease status) data while conducting contaminant surveys, and confirms some previous reports of trends in OHCs in Alaska marine mammals.

altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Harley, J. R., Gill, V. A., Lee, S., Kannan, K., Santana, V., Burek-Huntington, K., & O'Hara, T. M.

citation count

  • 1

publication date

  • July 2019