In this study, mercury (Hg) concentrations were examined in fishes from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska, the largest and one of the most remote units in the national park system. The goals of the study were to (1) examine the distribution of Hg in select lakes of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve; (2) evaluate the differences in Hg concentrations among fish species and with fish age and size; and (3) assess the potential ecological risks of Hg to park fishes, wildlife, and human consumers by comparing Hg concentrations to a series of risk benchmarks. Total Hg concentrations ranged from 17.9 to 616.4 nanograms per gram wet weight (ng/g ww), with a mean (± standard error) of 180.0 ±17.9 across the 83 individuals sampled. Without accounting for the effects of size, Hg concentrations varied by a factor of 10.9 across sites and species. After accounting for the effects of size, Hg concentrations were even more variable, differing by a factor of as much as 13.2 within a single species sampled from two lakes. Such inter-site variation suggests that site characteristics play an important role in determining fish Hg concentrations and that more intensive sampling may be necessary to adequately characterize Hg contamination in the park. Size-normalized Hg concentrations also differed among three species sampled from Tanada Lake, and Hg concentrations were strongly correlated with age. Furthermore, potential risks to park fish, wildlife, and human users were variable across lakes and species. Although no fish from two of the lakes studied (Grizzly Lake and Summit Lake) had Hg concentrations exceeding any of the benchmarks used, concentrations in Copper Lake and Tanada Lake exceeded conservative benchmarks for bird (90 ng/g ww in whole-body) and human (150 ng/g ww in muscle) consumption. In Tanada Lake, concentrations in most fishes also exceeded benchmarks for risk to moderate- and low-sensitivity avian consumers (180 and 270 ng/g ww in whole-body, respectively), as well as the concentration at which Alaska State guidelines suggest at-risk groups limit fish consumption to 3 meals per week (320 ng/g). However, the relationship between Hg concentrations and fish size in Tanada Lake suggests that consumption of smaller-sized fishes could reduce Hg exposure in human consumers.
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USGS Numbered Series
Mercury in fishes from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska