Student Research Projects

A Literature Review of Mercury in Dolphins

Student Lauren Nicholson, ‘13
Department Earth and Environmental Sciences
Course EES 489: Independent Research


Scientists are interested in studying the concentrations of mercury in dolphins to understand the impact of mercury on dolphin health and their exposure pathways. This research consists of a literature review that compared 14 studies that measured mercury concentrations in dolphins. These studies looked at the mercury levels in bottlenose, striped, and common dolphins. Each study sampled 2-3 types of tissue from liver, kidney, muscle, blood, and epidermis. One consistent trend is that the highest concentrations of mercury are found in the liver, the second highest in the kidney, and the third highest in muscle. (Durden, 2007; Hong, 2012). These studies also show that the highest concentrations of mercury are in dolphins from the Mediterranean, specifically from the coast of Israel and the Croatian Adriatic coast (Roditi-Elasar, 2003; Pompe-Gotal, 2009). Based on these studies, we plan to collect samples from the liver, kidney, and blood of the stranded dolphins off US Atlantic Coast, which is where the highest concentrations of mercury can be found. We will collect and analyze our own samples in collaboration with the stranding response team of the Virginia Aquarium. We also plan to collect data on the age, gender, and length of the dolphins to evaluate the influence of life history on mercury concentrations.