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Mercury concentrations in breast feathers of three upper trophic level marine predators from the western Aleutian Islands, Alaska

May 6, 2014

Mercury (Hg) is a toxic element distributed globally through atmospheric transport. Agattu Island, located in the western Aleutian Islands, Alaska, has no history of point-sources of Hg contamination. We provide baseline levels of total mercury (THg) concentrations in breast feathers of three birds that breed on the island. Geometric mean THg concentrations in feathers of fork-tailed storm-petrels (Oceanodroma furcata; 6703 ± 1635, ng/g fresh weight [fw]) were higher than all other species, including snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus; 2105 ± 1631, ng/g fw), a raptor with a diet composed largely of storm-petrels at Agattu Island. There were no significant differences in mean THg concentrations of breast feathers among adult Kittlitz’s murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris; 1658 ± 1276, ng/g fw) and chicks (1475 ± 671, ng/g fw) and snowy owls. The observed THg concentrations in fork-tailed storm-petrel feathers emphasizes the need for further study of Hg pollution in the western Aleutian Islands.