First health and pollution study on harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) living in the German Elbe estuary


The Elbe is one of the major rivers releasing pollutants into the coastal areas of the German North Sea. Its estuary represents the habitat of a small population of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). Only little is known about the health status and contamination levels of these seals. Therefore, a first-ever seal catch was organized next to the islands of Neuwerk and Scharhörn in the region of the Hamburg Wadden Sea National Park. The investigations included a broad set of health parameters and the analysis of metals and organic pollutants in blood samples. Compared to animals of other Wadden Sea areas, the seals showed higher γ-globulin levels, suggesting higher concentrations of pathogens in this near-urban area, elevated concentrations for several metals in particular for V, Sn, Pb, and Sr, and comparable ranges for chlorinated organic contaminants, except for elevated levels of hexachlorobenzene, which indicates characteristic inputs from the Elbe.
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