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Contaminants in Svalbard Polar Bear Samples Archived since 1967 and Possible Population Level Effects

31 Jan 2003

Blood plasma samples were collected in 1967 from 32 polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in eastern Svalbard. These samples were stored frozen until 2001 and then analyzed for 33 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), two toxaphene congeners, DDTs, chlordanes (CHL), hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), and polybrominated flame retardants (biphenyls and diphenyl ethers). The 1967 pollutant levels were compared with values from 1993 to 1994 for adult females and adult males to obtain insights into the historical development of pollution in the Norwegian Arctic. Differences in the OC levels measured between 1967 and 1993–1994 ranged from a decrease (PCB 187 and p,p-DDE) to unchanged in both sexes (PCBs 105, 118, 209, and HCH) to an increase in females (PCBs 99, 128, and CHL), to increases in both sexes (PCBs 138, 153, 156, 157, 170, 180, 194, and 206). The maximum change was a nine-fold increase in PCB 157 in adult females. Changes from 1967 to 1993–1994 in contaminant pattern expressed relative to PCB 153 could be explained by a combination of selective metabolism and accumulation of organochlorines in polar bears and temporal changes in the contaminant mixture being transported to the Arctic. Harvest of polar bears in Svalbard ended in 1973 and it appears that most pollutant levels were increasing at the same time that the population was expected to recover from over-harvest. The mean age of adult females in the Svalbard population was similar to other populations where pollution levels are lower but harvest is intense. Females with cubs-of-the-year ⩾16 years old are uncommon in the population for unknown reasons. The impacts of contaminants on the Svalbard polar bear population are inconclusive but there are suggestions of contaminant-related population level effects that could have resulted from reproductive impairment of females, lower survival rates of cubs, or increased mortality of reproductive females.

Status: Completed

Type: Staff Publications

Author: Andrew E.Derocher, Hans Wolkers, Theo Colborn, Martin Schlabach, Thor S.Larsen, Øystein Wiig

Year of publication: 2003

Publisher: The Science of the Total Environment

Tags: polar bear Svalbard

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