As part of tagging and ecologic research efforts in 1997 and 1998, apparently healthy sea otters of four age-sex classes in six locations in Alaska and three in California were sampled for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other chemicals of ecologic or environmental concern (COECs). Published techniques for the detection of POPs (specifically Σpolychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], ΣDDTs, Σhexachlorocyclohexanes [HCHs], Σpolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs], Σchlordanes [CHLs], hexachlorobenzene [HCB], dieldrin, and mirex) in the tissue of dead otters were modified for use with serum from live sea otters. Toxic equivalencies (TEQs) were calculated for POPs with proven bioactivity. Strong location effects were seen for most POPs and COECs; sea otters in California generally showed higher mean concentrations than those in Alaska. Differences in contaminant concentrations were detected among age and sex classes, with high levels frequently observed in subadults. Very high levels of ΣDDT were detected in male sea otters in Elkhorn Slough, California, where strong freshwater outflow from agricultural areas occurs seasonally. All contaminants except mirex differed among Alaskan locations; only ΣDDT, HCB, and chlorpyrifos differed within California. High levels of ΣPCB (particularly larger, more persistent congeners) were detected at two locations in Alaska where associations between elevated PCBs and military activity have been established, while higher PCB levels were found at all three locations in California where no point source of PCBs has been identified. Although POP and COEC concentrations in blood may be less likely to reflect total body burden, concentrations in blood of healthy animals may be more biologically relevant and less influenced by state of nutrition or perimortem factors than other tissues routinely sampled.
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Vol. 46 • No. 4