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Blood dynamics of mercury and selenium in northern elephant seals during the lactation period

Habran, Sarah, Debier, Cathy, Crocker, Daniel E., Houser, Dorian S., Das, Krishna
Environmental pollution 2011 v.159 no.10 pp. 2523-2529
Mirounga angustirostris, blood, body condition, lactation, marine mammals, mercury, milk, mothers, pregnancy, progeny, pups, selenium, Pacific Ocean
The effects of reproduction and maternal investment (i.e., milk transfer) on trace element levels remain poorly understood in marine mammals. We examined the blood dynamics of mercury (Hg) and selenium (Se) during lactation in the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), a top predator from the North Pacific Ocean. Total Hg and Se levels were measured in whole blood and milk of 10 mother–pup pairs on days 5 and 22 of lactation. Both Hg and Se were transferred to offspring through the milk. Results suggested that the maternal transfer of Se was prominent during lactation, whereas the Hg transfer was larger during gestation. The lactation period affected Hg and Se levels in the blood of elephant seal mothers and pups. Physiological processes and their relationship to body condition should be considered carefully when interpreting trace element levels in the framework of biomonitoring.