Globally it is estimated that up to 37% of all marine mammals are at a risk of extinction, due in particular to human impacts, including coastal pollution. Dolphins are known to be at risk from anthropogenic contaminants due to their longevity and high trophic position. While it is known that beach-cast animals are often high in contaminants, it has not been possible to determine whether levels may also be high in live animals from the same populations. In this paper we quantitatively assess mercury contamination in the two main populations of a newly described dolphin species from south eastern Australia, Tursiops australis. This species appear to be limited to coastal waters in close proximity to a major urban centre, and as such is likely to be vulnerable to anthropogenic pollution. For the first time, we were able to compare blubber mercury concentrations from biopsy samples of live individuals and necropsies of beach-cast animals and show that beach-cast animals were highly contaminated with mercury, at almost three times the levels found in live animals. Levels in live animals were also high, and are attributable to chronic low dose exposure to mercury from the dolphin’s diet. Measurable levels of mercury were found in a number of important prey fish species. This illustrates the potential for low dose toxins in the environment to pass through marine food webs and potentially contribute to marine mammal deaths. This study demonstrates the potential use of blubber from biopsy samples to make inferences about the health of dolphins exposed to mercury.
MONK, A., Charlton-Robb, K., Buddhadasa, S., & THOMPSON, R. (2014). Comparison of Mercury Contamination in Live and Dead Dolphins from a Newly Described Species, Tursiops australis. PLoS One, 9(8), 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0104887