Environmental Pollution (2016)

DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.01.027


The coastal preferences of harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) intensify their exposure to human activities. The harbour porpoise Iberian population is presently very small and information about the threats it endures is vital for the conservation efforts that are being implemented to avoid local extinction. The present study explored the possible relation between the accumulation of trace elements by porpoises and their sex, body length, nutritional state, presence of parasites and gross pathologies. The concentrations of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), mercury (Hg), manganese (Mn), nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn) and selenium (Se) were evaluated in 42 porpoises stranded in Portugal between 2005 and 2013. Considering European waters, porpoises stranded in Portugal present the highest Hg concentrations and the lowest Cd concentrations, which may reflect dietary preferences and the geographic availability of these pollutants. While no effect of sex on trace element concentrations was detected, there was a positive relationship between porpoise body length and the concentration of Cd, Hg and Pb. Animals in worse nutritional condition showed higher levels of Zn. Harbour porpoises with high parasite burdens showed lower levels of Zn and As in all analysed tissues and also lower levels of renal Ni, while those showing gross pathologies presented higher Zn and Hg levels. This is the first data on the relationship between trace elements and health-related variables in porpoises from southern European Atlantic waters, providing valuable baseline information about the contamination status of this vulnerable population.