Sea duck populations are declining in Alaska. The reasons for the decline are not known; environmental lead exposure is one suspected cause. Thirty wild Steller's eider ducks (Polysticta stelleri) and 40 wild black scoter ducks (Melanitta nigra) were tested for blood lead levels using a portable blood lead analyzer (LeadCare®; ESA, Inc., Chelmsford, Massachusetts 01824, USA). Sixty-seven and one-tenth percent of the sea ducks had undetectable blood lead levels, 30.0% had values indicating normal or background lead exposure, and 2.9% had values indicating lead exposure. None of the birds had values indicating lead toxicity, and no birds demonstrated clinical signs of toxicity. Birds in areas with higher human population density had higher blood lead levels than those in less densely populated areas. This is the first time a portable blood lead analyzer has been utilized with sea ducks in a field setting. Because it provides immediate results, it is valuable as a screening tool for investigators carrying out surgical procedures on birds in the field as well as establishing baseline blood lead data on sea ducks. Lead exposure does occur in wild sea ducks, and the study indicates that additional research is needed in order to determine the role environmental lead plays in declining sea duck populations.
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Vol. 37 • No. 3