Elevated accumulation of the toxic metal mercury in the Critically Endangered oceanic whitetip shark Carcharhinus longimanus from the northwestern Atlantic Ocean

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The oceanic whitetip shark Carcharhinus longimanus is a widely distributed large pelagic shark species once considered abundant in tropical and warm temperate waters, but recently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN due to drastic population declines associated with overfishing. In addition to risks posed to its populations due to overexploitation, oceanic whitetip sharks are also capable of accumulating elevated quantities of harmful environmental toxicants, placing them at special risk from anthropogenic pollution. Herein, we provide the first data on accumulation of the toxic, non-essential metal mercury (Hg) in northwest Atlantic (NWA) oceanic whitetip sharks, focusing on aggregations occurring at Cat Island, The Bahamas. Total Hg (THg) concentrations were measured in muscle of 26 oceanic whitetip sharks and compared with animal length and muscle δ15N to evaluate potential drivers of Hg accumulation. THg concentrations were also measured in fin and blood subcomponents (red blood cells and plasma) to determine their value as surrogates for assessing Hg burden. Muscle THg concentrations were among the highest ever reported for a shark species and correlated significantly with animal length, but not muscle δ15N. Fin, red blood cell, and plasma THg concentrations were significantly correlated with muscle THg. Fin THg content was best suited for use as a surrogate for estimating internal Hg burden because of its strong relationship with muscle THg levels, whereas blood THg levels may be better suited for characterizing recent Hg exposure. We conclude that Hg poses health risks to NWA oceanic whitetip sharks and human consumers of this species.

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Endangered Species Research



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