Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures


Assessment of Heavy Metals in Subsistence-Harvested Alaskan Pinniped Vibrissae

Event Name/Location

253rd ACS National Meeting and Exposition, San Francisco, California, April 2-6, 2017

Document Type


Publication Date



In the past 40 years, three species of pinnipeds- harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) and the northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris)- have undergone significant population declines . Archived vibrissae (whiskers) from these four species from the Bering Sea and throughout the Gulf of Alaska from 1993 to 2014, are used in the project. To our knowledge, this is the first time that whiskers are being used for heavy metal analyses. Whiskers are comprised of keratin, much like fur and hair, which has been proven to accumulate heavy metals. The heavy metals tested, Hg, Se, As, Zn, Cr, Co, Cu, Pb, Cd and Ni, can provide a baseline concentration for heavy metal bioaccumulation in higher trophic species. The results of this research will provide additional data to possibly help with the question of the pinniped and fissiped population declines, without compromising the health of the animal since it is a noninvasive procedure. The information will also be shared with Alaskan subsistence communities regarding the level of safety in regards to consumption of various marine mammal tissues.