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Undergraduate Research Project Management System

Polybromiated of Diphenyl Ethers in Alaskan Sea Otters and Antarctic Weddell Seals

Status Complete
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 09/01/2006
End Date 06/30/2007
Funding Source Undergraduate Research Grants
Funding Amount
Community Partner
Related Course
Last Updated 07/05/2008 01:25AM


  John Kennish

Student Researchers
  Revathy Thiagarajan-Smith


The goal of this study is to measure amounts of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) compounds in bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) and Alaska sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni).  I would like to obtain a ratio of different isomeric forms of pBDE compounds found in the blubber of bowhead whale and sea otter heart tissue samples.  This analysis will be conducted using gas chromatography equipped with electron-capture detector (ECD).  Recently, sea otters in Kachemak Bay have been very prone to fatal heart infections (USFWS, 2006).  Some of the sea otters washed up to shore have been severely paralyzed and eventually died.  Most have been found dead.  Studies show that elevated levels of different pollutants such as tributyltin, PCB, and DDT compounds found in dead sea otter tissues are suspected to suppress their immune systems and thus making them more susceptible to various infections (Kannan et al., 2004).  Recent studies show that PCB and DDT levels in the environment have reached a plateau. However, PBDE levels have continued to climb and there is no evidence that it has reached its maximum level.  In fifteen years, it will surpass PCB as the most ubiquitous organic pollutant in the environment (Groc, 2005).  PBDE compounds are very lipophillic and will bioaccumulate as they travel up the food chain.  Bowhead whales have always been an interest to me since they are consumed mostly by the Alaska Natives.  The relatively high concentrations of lipophillic compounds present in whale tissue bioconcentrate in tissue of Native Alaskans.  Currently, there is no data on the toxicity limits of PBDE in humans.  However, several animal studies have revealed disturbing side effects of PBDE exposure.

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