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Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Sep 1;44(17):6869-74. doi: 10.1021/es1009983.

Preliminary assessment of avian stomach oils: a vector of contaminants to chicks and potential for diet analysis and biomonitoring.

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Program for Chemical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5, Canada.


Bird species from the order Procellariiformes or petrels, including the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), produce high lipid and high energy content stomach oils from the prey they consume, which enables them to exploit distant marine food sources. Stomach oils are also used as a food source for chicks and for defensive purposes. Samples of stomach oils from two Arctic colonies, St. George Island Alaska, USA and Cape Vera, Devon Island Nunavut, Canada, were collected and analyzed for organochlorine contaminants. SigmaPCB concentrations ranged from 13 to 236 ng g(-1) wet weight (ww) and SigmaDDT concentrations from 5 to 158 ng g(-1) ww and were similar in both sites, though differences in chemical signatures were apparent. Stomach oils are a rich energy source; however, they may also provide a higher dose of contaminants per unit energy than the direct consumption of prey items, as illustrated using mass and energy balance calculations to estimate chick exposure to SigmaDDT for hypothetical stomach oil and whole prey diets. The results of this study suggest that stomach oils are an important vector of organochlorine contaminants to chicks and should be considered in future risk assessments of northern fulmars and other species of petrels. To our knowledge this is the first study of stomach oils as an overlooked vector of organochlorine contaminants to chicks and as a potentially valuable medium for dietary analysis and noninvasive biomonitoring both of petrel dietary exposure and of marine contaminant concentrations.

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