Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Persistent organic pollutants in seabirds and their fish prey

Persistent organic pollutants are a cause for concern for nearshore marine ecosystems already threatened by a variety of human activities and pressures. Signs of ecosystem deterioration in the form of increasing levels and types of persistent organic pollutants have been detected in a variety of Puget Sound marine organisms. Pacific herring are at least three times more contaminated with PCBs in Puget Sound than in the Strait of Georgia, and juvenile salmonids have higher levels of PCBs and DDTs in Puget Sound and other urban West Coast estuaries. Upper trophic–level consumers (adult Pacific salmon, harbor seals, and killer whales) inhabiting Puget Sound have consistently higher organochlorine concentrations than those inhabiting other west coast locations. We analyzed persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in prey obtained from rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island (Puget Sound), Tatoosh Island (WA coast), and Destruction Island (WA coast) to compare the foraging sphere of an urbanized estuary (Puget Sound) with outer coast spheres. We measured levels of persistent organic pollutants in the six most common fish prey delivered to auklet chicks. Overall, concentrations of PCBs, DDTs, and PBDEs in fish from Puget Sound were 2–4 times more contaminated and had similar contaminant profiles compared to fish from the outer coast. Elevated PCB and PBDE concentrations in Chinook salmon from the outer coast likely reflected Columbia River influences. Calculating contaminant loads for auklet nestlings magnified differences observed between inland and outer coast fish prey. Monitoring of breeding auklets, their prey and other resident marine birds is needed to assess biomagnification impacts in the Puget Sound marine ecosystem. We are amassing seabird specimens to examine POPs levels, particularly in Puget Sound.


Scott F. Pearson - Wildlife Research Division, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Peter Hodum - Biology Department, University of Puget Sound
Gina M. Ylitalo - Environmental and Fisheries Sciences Division, NWFSC


Good, T. P., S. F. Pearson, P. Hodum, D. Boyd, B. F. Anulacion, and G. M. Ylitalo. (submitted) Persistent organic pollutants in forage fish preyed upon by rhinoceros auklets breeding in Puget Sound and the northern California Current. Marine Pollution Bulletin.