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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Organochloride pesticides in California sea lions revisited

Burney J Le Boeuf1*, John P Giesy2, Kurunthachalam Kannan3, Natsuko Kajiwara4, Shinsuke Tanabe4 and Cathy Debier1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology and Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA

2 Department of Zoology, National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA

3 Wadsworth Center, New York State Dept of Health, Empire State Plaza, PO Box 509, Albany, NY 12201-0509A, USA

4 Center for Marine Environmental Studies, Ehime University, Matsuyama, Japan

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BMC Ecology 2002, 2:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-2-11

Published: 12 December 2002



Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are ubiquitous environmental contaminants that have been banned in most countries, but considerable amounts continue to cycle the ecosphere. Top trophic level predators, like sea birds and marine mammals, bioaccumulate these lipophilic compounds, reflecting their presence in the environment.


We measured concentrations of tDDT (p,p' - DDT + p,p' - DDD + p,p' - DDE) and PCBs in the blubber of dead California sea lions stranded along the California coast. tDDT and PCB concentrations were 150 ± 257 ug/g lipid weight (mean ± SD) and 44 ± 78 ug/g lipid weight, respectively. There were no differences in tDDT or PCB concentrations between animal categories varying in sex or age. There was a trend towards a decrease in tDDT and PCB concentrations from northern to southern California. The lipid content of the blubber was negatively correlated with levels of tDDT and PCBs. tDDT concentrations were approximately 3 times higher than PCB concentrations.


tDDT levels in the blubber of California sea lions decreased by over one order of magnitude from 1970 to 2000. PCB level changes over time were unclear owing to a paucity of data and analytical differences over the years. Current levels of these pollutants in California sea lions are among the highest among marine mammals and exceed those reported to cause immunotoxicity or endocrine disruption.