• Putting sea lions to WERC tracking ecosystem changes
    • Stephanie Crawford and Lorrie Rea (WERC)
    • February 07, 2020

Lanugo, or natal fur, of Steller sea lion pups (Eumetopias jubatus) is grown in utero; therefore, the total mercury concentration ([THg]) measured in lanugo reflects the dam’s diet during late gestation.

Lanugo samples were collected from young pups at Agattu Island, Alaska in six years between 2011–2018 (n=281). Collectively, we found a broad range of [THg] (2.55–73.74 µg/g dw). We identified significant increases in median [THg] in the lanugo of pups at Agattu Island over this brief period:  years 2011/2012 (7.81 ± 14.01 µg/g ± SD), 2013/2015 (12.27 ± 9.98 µg/g) and 2017/2018 (15.89 ± 13.31 µg/g, p<0.01). The percentage of pups exceeding the 20 µg/g threshold of potential adverse effects increased more than twofold in this same period: 18.1% in 2011/2012, 29.5% in 2013/2015, and 42.4% in 2017/2018.

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