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Assessment of claw growth-layer groups from ringed seals (Pusa hispida) as biomonitors of inter- and intra-annual Hg, δ15N, and δ13C variation

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The ringed seal (Pusa hispida (Schreber, 1775)) is a sentinel species of arctic marine mammals; therefore, methods to monitor its life-history changes are crucial to establish effective conservation strategies. We evaluate the potential use of claws of ringed seals as a proxy for counts of tooth growth-layer groups (age) and a biomonitor of total mercury burden (THg) and diet (stable isotope ratios expressed as δ15N and δ13C). The count of claw growth-layer groups was indicative of age up to 8 years and we infer differentiation of dark and light annuli as being associated with the spring moult. No differences of THg, δ15N, or δ13C were observed among flipper digits. The proximal claw annulus representing the most recent growth had δ13C values that were correlated to both muscle and liver δ13C, supporting the use of claws to monitor visceral δ13C. Claw log10THg from the proximate annulus was significantly correlated to liver and whisker log10THg, while significant interannual THg accumulation was observed in 18 of 32 seals ≥4 years, suggesting the claws receive and disperse Hg from active tissues of the body. Results support the use of claw tissue from ringed seal to provide a chronological record of inter- and intra-annual variations representing seal diet, contaminant load, and life history.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 501 University Crescent, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N6 Canada.

Publication date: 2011-09-24

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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