Bioaccumulation of Organochlorine Contaminants in Bowhead Whales (Balaena mysticetus) from Barrow, Alaska Academic Article uri icon


  • Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) blubber (n = 72) and liver (n = 23) samples were collected during seven consecutive subsistence harvests (1997-2000) at Barrow, Alaska, to investigate the bioaccumulation of organochlorine contaminants (OCs) by this long-lived mysticete. The rank order of OC group concentrations (geometric mean, wet weight) in bowhead blubber samples were toxaphene (TOX; 455 ng/g) > polychlorinated biphenyls (SigmaPCBs; 410 ng/g) > dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane-related compounds (SigmaDDT; 331 ng/g) >or= hexachlorocyclohexane isomers (SigmaHCHs; 203 ng/g) >or= chlordanes and related isomers (SigmaCHLOR; 183 ng/g) > chlorobenzenes (SigmaCIBz; 106 ng/g). In liver, SigmaHCH (9.5 ng/g; wet weight) was the most abundant SigmaOC group, followed by SigmaPCBs (9.1 ng/g) >or= TOX (8.8 ng/g) > SigmaCHLOR (5.5 ng/g) > SigmaCIBz (4.2 ng/g) >or= SigmaDDT (3.7 ng/g). The dominant analyte in blubber and liver was p,p'-DDE and alpha-HCH, respectively. Total TOX, SigmaPCBs, SigmaDDT, and SigmaCHLOR concentrations in blubber generally increased with age of male whales (as interpreted by body length), but this relationship was not significant for adult female whales. Biomagnification factor (BMF) values (0.1-45.5) for OCs from zooplankton (Calanus sp.) to bowhead whale were consistent with findings for other mysticetes. Tissue-specific differences in OC patterns in blubber and liver may be attributed to variation of tissue composition and the relatively low capacity of this species to biotransform various OCs. Principal component analysis of contaminants levels in bowhead blubber samples suggest that proportions of OCs, such as beta-HCH, fluctuate with seasonal migration of this species between the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.

author list (cited authors)

  • Hoekstra, P. F., O'Hara, T. M., Pallant, S. J., Solomon, K. R., & Muir, D.

citation count

  • 50

publication date

  • May 2002