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Maternal Transfer of Mercury to Northern Elephant Seal Pups

February 7, 2024

We used free-ranging northern elephant seals as a model species to investigate maternal transfer of mercury (Hg) to pups in relation to maternal traits, including maternal blood mercury concentrations, and to quantify the links between pup lanugo mercury concentrations and maternal mesopelagic foraging behavior during gestation. We satellite tracked known-age adult females at sea during their seven-month-long foraging trip to determine maternal foraging strategies (geographic locations and diving depths) and quantified mercury concentrations in maternal blood and their pups’ blood and lanugo (which is defined as pup hair grown in utero) early in lactation when seals were hauled out. We then tested how the maternal transfer of mercury to pups is influenced by additional maternal traits, such as maternal age, as well as for intra-year variability by including additional lanugo samples from more than 300 pups of known adult females that we did not handle or track at sea.

These data support the following publication:
Peterson, S.H., Peterson, M.G., Ackerman, J.T., Debier, C., Goetsch, C., Holser, R.R., Hückstädt, L.A., Johnson, J.C., Keates, T.R., McDonald, B.I., McHuron, E.A., and Costa, D.P., 2024. Foraging behavior and age affect maternal transfer of mercury to northern elephant seal pups. Scientific Reports, 14(4693),

Publication Year 2024
Title Maternal Transfer of Mercury to Northern Elephant Seal Pups
DOI 10.5066/P14UANSS
Authors Sarah E H Peterson, Josh T Ackerman, Daniel P. Costa
Product Type Data Release
Record Source USGS Digital Object Identifier Catalog
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center - Headquarters