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To determine if contaminant levels in common terns had changed over the last decade, we collected and analyzed eggs from four nesting colonies on the three lower Great lakes during 1981. DDE and PCBs were detected in every egg from the four colonies. Dieldrin, mirex and trans-nonachlor were detected in more than 45% of the eggs. Seven other organochlorine contaminants (DDD, DDT, hexachlorobenzene, oxychlordane, cis-chlordane, cis-nonachlor and toxaphene) were detected in less than 25% of the eggs. Eggs from the Lake Ontario colony were generally the most heavily contaminated. Comparisons of DDE and PCB data with earlier studies of common terns indicated that contaminant levels in eggs from the four sampled colonies, or nearby sites, have decreased by up to 80-90% from 1969-73 to 1981. Interspecies comparisons showed that common tern eggs have lower organochlorine residue levels than eggs of caspian terns or herring gulls. Dietary variation and migratory status are possible explanations for the differences in residue levels among species. Eggshell thickness, log-PCBs, and log-DDE were not significantly intercorrelated. Elevated contaminant levels in the early 1970s might be at least partly responsible for the decline of the Great Lakes Common Tern population over the past decade. Stabilization of population numbers during the early 1980s suggests that organochlorine pollution levels have been reduced to a point where they are no longer an important factor in the population dynamics of this species on the Great Lakes.
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Organochlorine contaminants in eggs of common terns from the Canadian Great Lakes 1981