Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8241
Title: Persistent organic pollutant determination in killer whale scat samples: optimization of a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry method and application to field samples
Author: Jessica I. Lundin, Russell Dills, Gina Marie Ylitalo, M. B. Hanson, Candice K. Emmons, Gregory S. Schorr, Jacqui Ahmad, Jennifer Hempelmann, K. M. Parsons, S. K. Wasser
Publication Year: 2016
Journal: Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
Volume: 70
Pages: 9-19
Keywords: killer whales,Persistent Organic Pollutants,feces,analytical methodology

Biologic sample collection in wild cetacean populations is challenging.  Most information on toxicant levels is obtained from blubber biopsy samples; however sample collection is invasive and strictly regulated under permit, thus limiting sample numbers.  Methods are needed to monitor toxicant levels that increase temporal and repeat sampling of individuals for population health and recovery models.  The objective of this study was to optimize measuring trace levels (parts per billion) of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), namely polychlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated-diphenyl-ethers (PBDEs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDTs), and hexachlorocyclobenzene in killer whale scat (fecal) samples.  Archival scat samples, initially collected, lyophilized, and extracted with 70% ethanol for hormone analyses, were used to analyze POP concentrations.  The residual pellet was extracted and analyzed using gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry.  Method detection limits ranged from 11-125 ng/g dry weight.  The described method is suitable for p,p'-DDE, PCBs-138, 153, 180, and 187, and PBDEs-47 and 100; other POPs were below the limit of detection.  We applied this method to 124 scat samples collected from Southern Resident killer whales.  Scat samples from 22 adult whales had known POP concentrations in blubber and demonstrated significant correlations (p<0.01) between matrices across target analytes.  Overall, the scat toxicant measures matched previously reported patterns from blubber samples of decreased levels in reproductive-age females and a decreased p,p’-DDE/∑PCB ratio in J-pod.  Measuring toxicants in scat samples provides an unprecedented opportunity to non-invasively evaluate contaminants levels in wild cetacean populations; this data has the prospect to provide meaningful information for vital management decisions.

Theme: Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
Foci: Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability.