Effects of Preparation on Nutrient and Environmental Contaminant Levels in Arctic Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus Leucas) Traditional Foods

Environ Sci Process Impacts. 2017 Aug 16;19(8):1000-1015. doi: 10.1039/c7em00167c.


For Canadian Arctic indigenous populations, marine mammal (MM) traditional foods (TFs) represent sources of both important nutrients and hazardous environmental contaminants. Food preparation is known to impact the nutrient and environmental contaminant content of processed items, yet the impacts of preparation on indigenous Arctic MM TFs remain poorly characterized. In order to determine how the various processes involved in preparing beluga blubber TFs affect their levels of nutrients and environmental contaminants, we collected blubber samples from 2 male beluga whales, aged 24 and 37 years, captured during the 2014 summer hunting season in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, and processed them according to local TF preparation methods. We measured the levels of select nutrients [selenium (Se), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)] and contaminants [organochlorine pesticides, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mercury (Hg)] in raw and prepared (boiled, roasted, aged) beluga blubber TFs. The impacts of beluga blubber TF preparation methods on nutrient and environmental contaminant levels were inconsistent, as the majority of processes either did not appear to influence concentrations or affected the two belugas differently. However, roasting and ageing beluga blubber consistently impacted certain compounds: roasting blubber increased concentrations of hydrophilic substances (Se and certain PFASs) through solvent depletion and deposited PAHs from cookfire smoke. The solid-liquid phase separation involved in ageing blubber depleted hydrophilic elements (Se, Hg) and some ionogenic PFASs from the lipid-rich liquid oil phase, while PUFA levels appeared to increase, and hydrophobic persistent organic pollutants were retained. Ageing blubber adjacent to in-use smokehouses also resulted in considerable PAH deposition to processed samples. Our findings demonstrated that contaminant concentration differences were greater between the two sets of whale samples, based on age differences, than they were within each set of whale samples, due to variable preparation methods. When considering means to minimize human contaminant exposure while maximizing nutrient intake, consumption of aged liquid from younger male whales would be preferred, based on possible PUFA enhancement and selective depletion of hydrophilic environmental contaminants in this food item.

MeSH terms

  • American Native Continental Ancestry Group
  • Animals
  • Arctic Regions
  • Beluga Whale*
  • Canada
  • Cooking*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / analysis*
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat Products / analysis*
  • Meat Products / standards
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Selenium