Hepatic Fatty Acid Profiles Associated with Exposure to Emerging and Legacy Halogenated Contaminants in Two Harbor Seal Populations across the North Atlantic

By Jiachen Sun, Long Zhang, Fengli Zhou, Susan Shaw, Anna Roos, Michelle Berger, Britt-Marie Bäcklin, Yichao Huang, Xiaoshi Zheng, Xiaodong Wang, and Da Chen
February 7, 2022
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c06512

Fatty acids (FAs) have been extensively used as indicators of foraging ecology in marine mammals, yet their association with exposure to contaminants has rarely been investigated. The present study provided the first characterization of the relationship between hepatic FA profiles and exposure to a suite of contaminants in a sentinel species─the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)─from the Gulf of Maine and the south coast of Sweden. FA profiles differed in the two seal populations, and the levels of legacy and alternative brominated flame retardants and polyhalogenated carbazoles were significantly elevated in Maine seals. Correlations between individual FAs and multiple flame retardants (FRs) and poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) were found in seals from both populations. Moreover, several FR and PFAS chemicals were significantly associated with the estimated desaturating enzyme activity inferred from the FA profiles. The ratios of poly to monounsaturated FAs (∑PUFAs/∑MUFAs) and those of unsaturated to saturated FAs (∑UFAs/∑SFAs) were significantly associated with HBBZ, PFHxS, or BDE 47 in seals from Maine and Sweden, whereas ∑n – 6/∑n – 3 PUFAs was significantly associated with BDE 154 and 36-CCZ in Swedish and Maine seals, respectively. Our results suggest the lipid metabolism-disrupting potential of these contaminants in marine mammals and warrant continuous biomonitoring and risk assessment, considering the critical role of PUFAs in vital biological processes.


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