Virus-associated mass mortalities among several marine mammal populations inhabiting industrialized coastal areas have generated an interest in wildlife immunotoxicology. Despite the isolation of previously uncharacterized viruses from victims, a contribution of immunotoxic contaminants to the severity of the outbreaks could not be ruled out. Fish- eating marine mammals, including seals, occupy high trophic levels in the aquatic food chain, and accumulate high levels of contaminants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), and polychorimated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). Such chemicals have been found to be immunotoxic at low doses in studies of laboratory animals. While associations have been established between environmental contaminants and various adverse biological effects in certain free-ranging seal populations, evidence for immunotoxicity has, until recently, been lacking. To this end, we carried out an immunotoxicological study, in which captive harbor seals were fed herring from either relatively uncontaminated sites of the Atlantic Ocean, or from the highly contaminated Baltic Sea. In this review, we summarize the contaminant-related immunosuppression observed in the captive group of seals fed herring from the Baltic Sea, and discuss these results in the context of what is currently known about outbreaks of virus infection, comparative immunology, and environmental contaminants. We also describe two parallel studies, in which laboratory rats exposed as adults or perinatally to the contaminants in the Baltic Sea herring, exhibited immunotoxicity. On the basis of these and other studies, we conclude that complex mixtures of environmental contaminants may represent a real immunotoxic risk to free- ranging marine mammals in many areas of Europe and North America.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Contaminants, Immunotoxicity, Seals, Virus infection
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0959-8030(97)00001-X, hdl.handle.net/1765/70212
Journal Annual Review of Fish Diseases
Citation
Ross, P.S, de Swart, R.L, van Loveren, H, Osterhaus, A.D.M.E, & Vos, J.G. (1996). The immunotoxicity of environmental contaminants to marine wildlife: A review. Annual Review of Fish Diseases (Vol. 6, pp. 151–165). doi:10.1016/S0959-8030(97)00001-X