Capstone Title

Effects of Persistent Marine Pollutants on Lactation in the Suborder Pinnipedia: A Literature Review

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Environmental Sciences

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

First Advisor

Caryn Self-Sullivan

Second Advisor

Curtis Burney


Marine pollutants, particularly, those that persist in the marine environment, are an ongoing problem, both on a local and global scale and have impacted water quality, birds, coral reef fishes, and marine mammals. Throughout history, many regulatory efforts, such the Clean Water Act,has beeninstrumental in preventing and reducing contaminants in marine environments. Extensive research has been done in order to address the effects onpinnipeds, however, due to contaminant variability and long residence times, and the remote locations of many seal populations, research has been challenging. Nevertheless, much can be learned from the literature regarding exposure and the types of persistent pollutants that have impactedseals. The purpose of this capstone review is to examine the effects of persistent pollutants onpinnipeds, with an emphasis on its role inlactationaltransfer. There are two main families ofpinnipeds, Phocidae and Otarridae. The family Phocidae or “true” seals are characterized by their lack of visible earpinnaeand large body size. On the other hand, the family Otarridae is known as “eared seals”. Each familysharesimilarlactationalprocesses, however,phocidshave shorterlactationalperiods and fasting females continuously produce milk. The energetics of lactationis very demanding on dams of both families and lactational strategies varyduring fasting periods. Lactation is one of the major routes in which persistentpollutantstransfer from dam to pup. Due to the high lipid content in milk, this facilitates in rapid pup growth from the start of the nursing period.Lipophilicpollutants such as PCBs, DDTs, and other organochlorine pesticides have been detected in milk samples. Exposure to these contaminants at an early stage may have detrimental effects on pup physiology, making them vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. It is still unclear, however, why certain pollutants transfer and others do not. Some of the recommendations made is this review paper include: 1) further study is needed to minimize that variability thatexistin determining contaminant concentrations, 2) uniformity in study methodology should be established between research studies for better comparisons between seal populations, and 3) implement managementcontrols if,non-existent, in susceptiblepinnipedhabitat.

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