Marine mammals being in the top predator in the food web tend to accumulate organic and inorganic contaminants from the environment. The body burden of contaminants in these species could reflect their foods and thus contaminant levels could serve as proxies on the changes of ecosystem. A pilot study was carried out to investigate the possibility of radionuclide leakage at Amchitka using a suite of sea otter (Enhydra lutris) skulls collected near Amchitka nuclear test-sites before (1950s) and after the testing (1990s), and at Adak, another Aleutian Island, about 300 km from Amchitka, where the potential impact of radionuclide leakage from Amchitka is expected to be negligible. In addition, the naturally occurring and anthropogenic radionuclide content on the sea otter skull was also utilized to investigate if there was any significant ecosystem changes in the environment.
Concentration of 210Pb in sea otter bones collected during the 1950's was significantly higher than those collected in the 1990's. We propose that among the various factors that could cause this higher enrichment in 210Pb, changes in the sea otter prey is the most likely one. Comparison of the 137Cs, 90Sr, 239,240Pu concentrations appear not to be significantly higher in sea otter skulls collected in 1990s from Amchitka where the underground tests in 1965-71 than those from Adak, although significant differences were detected among different groups collected at various times.
Additional publication details
Temporal variations of natural and anthropogenic radionuclides in sea otter skull tissue in the North Pacific Ocean