Anthropogenic (PBDE) and naturally-produced (MeO-PBDE) brominated compounds in cetaceans--a review

Sci Total Environ. 2014 May 15;481:619-34. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.02.022. Epub 2014 Mar 15.


This paper reviews the available data on brominated flame retardants, the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), as well as on the naturally-produced methoxylated polybrominated diphenyl ethers (MeO-PBDEs) in cetacean tissues around the world. Levels and possible sources of both compound classes are discussed. Odontocete cetaceans accumulate higher PBDE concentrations than mysticete species. PBDE contamination was higher in cetaceans from the Northern hemisphere, whereas MeO-PBDE levels were higher in animals from the Southern hemisphere. Southern resident killer whales from NE Pacific presented the highest levels reported in biota, followed by bottlenose dolphins from North Atlantic (U.K. and U.S. coast). Many species presented PBDE concentrations above threshold levels for health effects in odontocetes. Time trend studies indicate that PBDE concentrations in odontocetes from Japan, China, U.S. and Canada coastal zones have increased significantly over the past 30 years. Studies from U.K. waters and NE Atlantic showed a decrease and/or stability of PBDE levels in cetacean tissues in recent decades. The highest MeO-PBDE concentrations were found in dolphins from Tanzania (Indian Ocean), bottlenose dolphins from Queensland, Australia (SW Pacific), and odontocetes from coastal and continental shelf waters off southeastern Brazil (SW Atlantic). The upwelling phenomenon and the presence of coral reef complexes in these tropical oceans may explain the large amounts of the naturally-produced organobromines. Considering that these bioaccumulative chemicals have properties that could cause many deleterious effects in those animals, future studies are required to evaluate the potential ecotoxicological risks.

Keywords: Cetaceans; Endocrine disruptors; Marine mammals; MeO-PBDEs; PBDEs; Time trends.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cetacea / metabolism*
  • Data Collection
  • Dolphins / metabolism
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Female
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / metabolism*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / standards
  • Male
  • New South Wales
  • Tanzania
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / standards
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / statistics & numerical data


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical