HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Amy C. Hirons, PhD

Second Advisor

Dimitrios Giarikos PhD

Third Advisor

Lawrence K. Duffy PhD


Western Arctic bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, migrate annually among the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. Foraging along their route, they use keratinous baleen to filter microscopic zooplankton from the water column. A single baleen plate from an adult bowhead whale grows continuously and stores 20+ years of dietary and environmental data. This study utilized induced coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to evaluate concentrations of 14 essential and non-essential elements in baleen samples from nine subsistence-harvested whales, yielding continuous data from 1958–1999 (n=148). Stable isotope data previously reported on these samples provided information on location (Beaufort Sea; Bering/Chukchi seas), season (winter; summer), and year per sample. All 14 elements were detected in baleen: aluminum (Al), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), cobalt (Co), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn), lead (Pb), selenium (Se), vanadium (V), zinc (Zn). The lowest concentrations of elements were found for As, Cd, V; the highest Al, Cu, Fe, and Zn. Fe and Mn varied coincidentally across the plates of whales from the 1990s. Se and Hg were significantly correlated (ρ=0.398, p0.05). These data implied biomagnification, bioaccumulation, and/or toxicity with time, though further studies are necessary to confirm.