The high levels of mercury concentrations were found at Ano Nuevo Island which is surround by elephant seals.
New research says that elephant seals shed mercury alongside their hair which causes pollution to the marine environment.
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The research was conducted by the researchers of University of California, Santa Cruz. They have found that elephant seals amass high concentrations of toxic metal mercury in their bodies. They shed a significant amount of mercury during molting season and contribute in rising mercury levels in seawater at Ano Nuevo Island. Seals are dependent on fishes as a main food source.
“Many studies have looked at biomagnifications up the food chain and we took that a step further to see what happens next. Mercury is an element, so it never breaks down and goes away…it just changes form.”Jennifer Cossaboon, lead author of the study said.
The release of mercury concentrations by elephant seals is the highest ever to be reported for any marine predator and is harmful for the marine environment.
Elephant seals can be seen at Ano Nuevo all year-round. Research suggests that the mercury level is relatively high in Ano Nuevo compared to the seawater of other coastal sites. The rate gets 17 times higher during the molting season.
Another study carried out by Russell Flegal in 1981 also came up with similar findings despite the fact the analytical instruments were not as advanced as they are today.
“At that time, we didn’t have the analytical instruments to detect the mercury at the concentrations found in seawater, so we used mussels, which filter seawater, as sentential organisms,” said Flegal. “In the new study, we were able to look at seasonal changes in the water and during the elephant seal molting season the levels of methyl mercury really took off.”
“This internal recycling back into the coastal environment just adds to the problem.”
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“It’s important to be aware of this phenomenon, just so we know where to identify those hot spots.” Cossaboon said.