Maternal offloading of organochlorine contaminants in the yolk-sac placental scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini)

Ecotoxicology. 2015 Apr;24(3):553-62. doi: 10.1007/s10646-014-1403-7. Epub 2014 Dec 20.


Elasmobranchs are a group of animals that typically occupy upper trophic levels in food webs and have a propensity to accumulate high contaminant concentrations. To date, few studies have investigated maternal offloading processes in sharks, despite the fact that this process represents a substantial source of exposure for young sharks and is a significant pathway for contaminant redistribution within marine ecosystems. Comparable to mammalian systems, scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) utilize a yolk-sac placental strategy to nourish young in utero, which may allow females to transfer contaminants to young. Organic contaminants (PCBs and chlorinated pesticides) were measured in livers of both females and males from several age classes that were collected from U.S. Atlantic waters, including two near-term pregnant females and their embryos. Adult female hammerheads (n = 3) were found to have lower levels of PCBs compared to the younger, adult male (mean ± SD, 11.1 ± 1.0 vs. 22.8 μg g(-1) lw), but had substantially higher concentrations of pesticides (4.1 ± 0.9 vs. 1.9 μg g(-1) lw). Embryos from the two litters (n = 36) had similar levels of summed organic contaminant concentrations (4.6 ± 0.9 μg g(-1) lw) and pregnant females were estimated to offload approximately 0.03-2.3% of their hepatic contaminant load to offspring. While the potential health impacts of these transferred contaminants is unknown, this is the first study to demonstrate that scalloped hammerheads are exposed to a substantial amount of contaminants prior to birth and document maternal offloading of organochlorines in a pseudo-placental shark species. Therefore, future research should continue to investigate the potential adverse effects these contaminants have on elasmobranch physiology.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Female
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / metabolism*
  • Sharks / growth & development
  • Sharks / metabolism*
  • United States
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism*
  • Yolk Sac / chemistry


  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical