Spatial variation in the accumulation of POPs and mercury in bottlenose dolphins of the Lower Florida Keys and the coastal Everglades (South Florida)

Environ Pollut. 2017 Jan;220(Pt A):577-587. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.10.005. Epub 2016 Oct 11.


The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is an upper trophic level predator and the most common cetacean species found in nearshore waters of southern Florida, including the Lower Florida Keys (LFK) and the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE). The objective of this study was to assess contamination levels of total mercury (T-Hg) in skin and persistent organic pollutants (PCBs, PBDEs, DDXs, HCHs, HCB, Σ PCDD/Fs and Σ DL-PCBs) in blubber samples of bottlenose dolphins from LFK (n = 27) and FCE (n = 24). PCBs were the major class of compounds found in bottlenose dolphin blubber and were higher in individuals from LFK (Σ 6 PCBs LFK males: 13,421 ± 7730 ng g-1 lipids, Σ 6 PCBs LFK females: 9683 ± 19,007 ng g-1 lipids) than from FCE (Σ 6 PCBs FCE males: 5638 ng g-1 ± 3627 lipids, Σ 6 PCBs FCE females: 1427 ± 908 ng g-1 lipids). These levels were lower than previously published data from the southeastern USA. The Σ DL-PCBs were the most prevalent pollutants of dioxin and dioxin like compounds (Σ DL-PCBs LFK: 739 ng g-1 lipids, Σ DL-PCBs FCE: 183 ng g-1 lipids) since PCDD/F concentrations were low for both locations (mean 0.1 ng g-1 lipids for LFK and FCE dolphins). The toxicity equivalences of PCDD/Fs and DL-PCBs expressed as TEQ in LFK and FCE dolphins is mainly expressed by DL-PCBs (81% LFK - 65% FCE). T-Hg concentrations in skin were significantly higher in FCE (FCE median 9314 ng g-1 dw) compared to LFK dolphins (LFK median 2941 ng g-1 dw). These concentrations are the highest recorded in bottlenose dolphins in the southeastern USA, and may be explained, at least partially, by the biogeochemistry of the Everglades and mangrove sedimentary habitats that create favourable conditions for the retention of mercury and make it available at high concentrations for aquatic predators.

Keywords: Dioxin-like compounds; Mercury; OHCs; South Florida; Tursiops truncatus.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bottle-Nosed Dolphin / metabolism*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / analysis*
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers / pharmacokinetics
  • Male
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Mercury / pharmacokinetics
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / pharmacokinetics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / pharmacokinetics


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Mercury