Highest Concentration of Mercury Ever Recorded Found In Florida Dolphins

After a scientific investigation looked at pollutants present in dolphins, findings were revealed which explained that bottlenose dolphins in the Florida Coastal Everglades have the highest concentration of mercury compared to any other population in the world. FIU scientists, along with scientists from the University of Liège in Belgium, the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands and the Tropical Dolphin Research Foundation in the United States took part in the investigation. They examined dolphins from the lower Florida Keys, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, with an aim of looking for mercury and organic pollutants that would be found in the dolphins’ skin and blubber, according to reports.

After finding high mercury levels in the coastal Everglades dolphins, the scientists also discovered that they were examining the highest levels of concentration that had ever been recorded. Reports claim that any potential sources of the mercury could be a result of both natural and man-made sources. These conclusions have since raised serious concerns about the potential impacts on the health of the local populations.

During the past few decades, unexpected deaths have occurred of a variety of marine mammal species across the world, which has included bottlenose dolphins along the East coast of the United States. Some scientists believe that one of the primary causes of this is the presence of toxic algae and toxic pollutants, such as mercury. Mercury is incredibly harmful to dolphins as it can disrupt their immune system, as well as their reproduction, thereby making them more vulnerable to infection and disease. According to reports, a primary source of mercury is thought to be mangroves, as when their leaves are dropped into swamp waters, the mercury from the mangroves then interacts with bacteria that then converts to highly toxic methyl-mercury.

FIU marine scientist Jeremy Kiszka, who co-authored the study, said, “Understanding the impact of pollutants on marine ecosystems, including from natural sources, is critical for conservation and management. Results obtained on bottlenose dolphins from the Everglades were surprising, but we now need to assess the effect of mercury on the health of dolphins and other species from the Everglades. This is a critical question for understanding the effects of pollutants on aquatic ecosystems, but also on humans, since we are also part of these ecosystems.”

In addition, organic pollutants were also examined as part of the study, which included pesticides along with other compounds. Some of these were found in various populations of the bottlenose dolphins that were found throughout the southern tip of Florida. However, mercury was found in concentrations which were a lot more alarming within the waters of the Everglades. The research team are planning to extend and continue their study into the presence of pollutants in marine animals, whilst also expanding it to other species which will include sharks, alligators, fish and more. The full findings of the study were published in Environmental Pollution.

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