Chemistry and Physics Faculty Articles


Maternal offloading of arsenic and other trace elements in Peruvian fur seals

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Marine Mammal Science


Arsenic, Maternal transfer, Milk, Pinniped, SECLER, Serum, Trace Elements, Vibrissae




The maternal transfer of 15 elements was examined in Peruvian fur seal (Arctocephalus australis) dam and pup paired vibrissae (whiskers), serum, and milk samples collected from 2009 to 2019. Pup vibrissae, grown in utero, represented gestational transfer, while milk represented lactational transfer. Element concentrations, except arsenic, were highest in vibrissae compared to serum and milk for both dams and pups. Mean arsenic concentrations in pup vibrissae (0.44 μg/g) and milk (0.41 μg/g) were twice as high as dam vibrissae concentrations (0.19 μg/g) and nearly ten times higher than dam (0.06 μg/g) and pup serum (0.04 μg/g) concentrations. Mean arsenic concentrations from 2011 to 2019 increased in dam vibrissae (0.026 μg/g to 0.262 μg/g) and milk (0.361 μg/g to 0.484 μg/g). Pup vibrissae had significantly higher concentrations for 11 of the 15 elements analyzed compared to dam vibrissae, suggesting that element transfer is occurring through recent exposure and remobilization of elements from dam body stores. Potentially high concentrations of aluminum, arsenic, copper, and lead in pup tissues may impact their survival and population health. The impact of regional mining activities can contribute to elevated trace elements through runoff and pose a possible threat to local marine environments.


© 2022 Society for Marine Mammalogy.

Research Funding

  • Chicago Board of Trade Endangered Species Fund
  • Saint Louis Zoo Field Research for Conservation Fund

All collection was authorized under Peruvian permit numbers RJ No. 09-2010-, 23-2011-, 022-2012-, 09-2013-, 024-2014, 008-2015-, 019-2016-SERNANP-RNSIIPG. Procedures and importation were further approved by the United States National Marine Fisheries Service under Marine Mammal Protection Act permits 15471 and 19669.



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