A comparison of mercury exposure in Gentoo penguins between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula
Pollution contaminants such as anthropogenic mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants have increased since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and are now becoming more prevalent in isolated regions of the planet.
These pollutants are lipophilic and therefore have bioaccumulating properties which are readily quantified in high-trophic predators, such as penguins.
Additionally, penguins serve as unique biomonitors for this contaminant exposure because they are relatively sedentary compared to flying birds and have a very limited migratory range during the non-breeding season. These characteristics make penguins excellent biomonitors for environmental contaminants throughout the region.
Specifically, we are looking at contaminant loads specifically in Gentoo penguins due to their widest latitudinal range of any penguin species, from the Falkland Islands at 51 degrees South Latitude to the farthest southern extent of the Gentoo’s range at 66 degrees South Latitude.
By quantifying contaminant loads in Gentoo penguins across this latitudinal gradient, differences in exposure levels and bioaccumulation can be determined between birds living closer to industrialized areas versus those living in remote and isolated areas of Antarctica. As suitable biomonitors, penguins serve as a proxy for contamination levels in the Southern Ocean.