Shark Nursery Grounds of the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast Waters of the United States

Organochlorine Contaminants in Juvenile Sandbar and Blacktip Sharks from Major Nursery Areas on the East Coast of the United States

James Gelsleichter, Nancy J. Szabo, and John J. Morris


Abstract.—Because of their tendency to accumulate in estuaries and coastal regions, organochlorine (OC) contaminants such as pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) represent potential threats to the quality of essential fish habitat for many shark species. These compounds pose special risks to immature sharks in particular because of their ability to impair growth and sexual maturation in juvenile fish at environmentally relevant levels of exposure. In order to assess the extent of these risks in shark populations on the East Coast of the United States, the present study examined concentrations of 30 OC pesticides/pesticide metabolites and total PCBs in juvenile sandbar Carcharhinus plumbeus and blacktip C. limbatus sharks from seven major nursery areas in the western Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico. Quantifiable levels of PCBs and 13 OC pesticides/ pesticide metabolites were detected via gas chromatography and mass spectrometry in liver of 25 young-of-the-year blacktip sharks from the southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast and three regions on Florida’s gulf coast: Cedar Key, Tampa Bay, and Charlotte Harbor. Similarly, quantifiable levels of PCBs and 14 OC pesticides/metabolites were detected in 23 juvenile C. plumbeus from three sites on the northeastern U.S. coast: middle Delaware Bay, lower Chesapeake Bay, and Virginia’s eastern shore. Liver OC concentrations in Atlantic sandbar and blacktip sharks were higher than expected and, in some cases, comparable with elevated levels observed in deep-sea and pelagic sharks. Although significantly lower than those observed in Atlantic sharks, pesticide and PCB levels in Florida blacktip sharks were similar to, if not greater than, OC concentrations reported in adults of other coastal shark species. Based on these data, OC contamination appears to pose significant threats to habitat quality in sandbar and blacktip shark nursery areas on the U.S. Atlantic coast.