Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Aquatic ecology

Delivery of pollutants by spawning salmon

Fish dump toxic industrial compounds in Alaskan lakes on their return from the ocean.

Abstract

Pollutants are widely distributed by the atmosphere and the oceans1. Contaminants can also be transported by salmon and amplified through the food chain. Here we show that groups of migrating sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) can act as bulk-transport vectors of persistent industrial pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which they assimilate from the ocean and then convey over vast distances back to their natal spawning lakes. After spawning, the fish die in their thousands — delivering their toxic cargo to the lake sediment and increasing its PCB content by more than sevenfold when the density of returning salmon is high.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type

from$1.95

to$39.95

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1
Figure 2: Surface sediments in Alaskan lakes show a similar pattern of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners to that found in salmon returning to spawn, and sedimentary PCB concentrations are strongly correlated with the density of salmon returning.

References

  1. Macdonald, R.W. et al. Sci. Total Environ. 254, 93–234 (2000).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Finney, B. P., Gregory-Eaves, I., Sweetman, J., Douglas, M. S. & Smol, J. P. Science 290, 795–799 (2000).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Naiman, R. J. et al. Ecosystems 5, 399–417 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Burgner, R. L. in Pacific Salmon Life Histories (eds Groot, C. & Margolis, L.) 1–117 (UBC, Vancouver, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Iwata, H. et al. Environ. Sci. Technol. 27, 1080–1098 (1993).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Indian and Northern Affairs Canadian Arctic Contaminant Assessment Report: Sources, Occurrence, Trends and Pathways in the Physical Environment (Can. Ministry Pub. Works Govt Serv., Ottawa, 2003).

  7. Ewald, G. et al. Arctic 51, 40–47 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Blais, J. M. et al. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 22, 126–133 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Muir, D. C. G. et al. Environ. Sci. Technol. 30, 3609–3617 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Arkoosh, M. R. et al. J. Aquat. Anim. Health 10, 182–190 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to E. M. Krümmel.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Krümmel, E., Macdonald, R., Kimpe, L. et al. Delivery of pollutants by spawning salmon. Nature 425, 255–256 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/425255a

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/425255a

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing