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High-precision isotopic analysis sheds new light on mercury metabolism in long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas)
Bolea-Fernandez, E.; Rua-Ibarz, A.; Krupp, E.M.; Feldmann, J.; Vanhaecke, F. (2019). High-precision isotopic analysis sheds new light on mercury metabolism in long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas). NPG Scientific Reports 9: 7262.
In: Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group). Nature Publishing Group: London. ISSN 2045-2322; e-ISSN 2045-2322, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Bolea-Fernandez, E., more
  • Rua-Ibarz, A., more
  • Krupp, E.M.
  • Feldmann, J.
  • Vanhaecke, F., more

    Whales accumulate mercury (Hg), but do not seem to show immediate evidence of toxic effects. Analysis of different tissues (liver, kidney, muscle) and biofluids (blood, milk) from a pod of stranded long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) showed accumulation of Hg as a function of age, with a significant decrease in the MeHg fraction. Isotopic analysis revealed remarkable differences between juvenile and adult whales. During the first period of life, Hg in the liver became isotopically lighter (δ202Hg decreased) with a strongly decreasing methylmercury (MeHg) fraction. We suggest this is due to preferential demethylation of MeHg with the lighter Hg isotopes and transport of MeHg to less sensitive organs, such as the muscles. Also changes in diet, with high MeHg intake in utero and during lactation, followed by increasing consumption of solid food contribute to this behavior. Interestingly, this trend in δ202Hg is reversed for livers of adult whales (increasing δ202Hg value), accompanied by a progressive decrease of δ202Hg in muscle at older ages. These total Hg (THg) isotopic trends suggest changes in the Hg metabolism of the long-finned pilot whales, development of (a) detoxification mechanism(s) (e.g., though the formation of HgSe particles), and Hg redistribution across the different organs.

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