Endocrine status of a migratory bird potentially exposed to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: a case study of northern gannets breeding on Bonaventure Island, Eastern Canada

Cynthia D Franci, Magella Guillemette, Emilien Pelletier, Olivier Chastel, Salomé Bonnefoi, Jonathan Verreault
Science of the Total Environment 2014 March 1, 473-474: 110-6
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused the death of a large number of seabirds in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. However, the long term consequences of oil exposure on migratory birds overwintering in this area have received limited attention. The present study aimed to investigate the impact of oil contamination (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)) on the circulating status of prolactin and corticosterone, two hormones that influence reproductive success in birds, in Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) breeding on Bonaventure Island, Eastern Canada. Using light-based geolocators, it was found that 23.5% of Northern gannets from Bonaventure Island overwintered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010-2011; the remainder of this population overwintered along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. PAH concentrations (eight compounds) in gannet blood cells were all found to be under the method limits of quantification, which could be the result of the ability of seabirds to metabolize these compounds and the time elapsed between oil exposure and blood sampling. Corticosterone and prolactin levels as well as body mass did not differ between the two major birds' wintering sites. Moreover, levels of both these hormones did not vary from early to late incubation period. Present results suggest that if Bonaventure Island-breeding Northern gannets had been exposed to oil in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of this historical spill, this exposure could not be associated with changes in hormonal status and body mass in breeding individuals.

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