Sheffield Gay

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  • Article
    Bowhead whale distribution and feeding near Barrow, Alaska, in late summer 2005–06
    (Arctic Institute of North America, 2010-06) Moore, Sue E. ; George, John C. ; Sheffield, Gay ; Bacon, Joshua ; Ashjian, Carin J.
    Aerial surveys for bowhead whales were conducted in conjunction with oceanographic sampling near Barrow, Alaska, in late summer of 2005 and 2006. In 2005, 145 whales were seen, mostly in two distinct aggregations: one (ca. 40 whales) in deep water in Barrow Canyon and the other (ca. 70 whales) in very shallow (< 10 m) water just seaward of the barrier islands. Feeding behaviours observed in the latter group included whales lying on their sides with mouths agape and groups of 5–10 whales swimming synchronously in turbid water. In 2006, 78 bowheads were seen, with ca. 40 whales feeding in dispersed groups of 3–11 whales. Feeding behaviours observed included surface skimming, echelon swimming, and synchronous diving and surfacing. Surfacing behaviour included head lunges by single animals and groups of 2–4 whales. Of 29 whales harvested at Barrow, 24 had been feeding. Euphausiids were the dominant prey in 2006 (10 of 13 stomachs), but not in 2005 (4 of 11 stomachs). Copepods were the dominant prey in the stomachs of three whales harvested near Barrow Canyon in 2005. Mysiids were the dominant prey in four stomachs, isopods in two, and amphipods in one although these taxa were not routinely captured during plankton sampling conducted in the weeks prior to the autumn harvest.
  • Article
    Paralytic shellfish toxins in Alaskan Arctic food webs during the anomalously warm ocean conditions of 2019 and estimated toxin doses to Pacific walruses and bowhead whales
    (Elsevier, 2022-03-03) Lefebvre, Kathi A. ; Fachon, Evangeline ; Bowers, Emily K. ; Kimmel, David G. ; Snyder, Jonathan A. ; Stimmelmayr, Raphaela ; Grebmeier, Jacqueline M. ; Kibler, Steve ; Hardison, D. Ransom ; Anderson, Donald M. ; Kulis, David M. ; Murphy, James M. ; Gann, Jeanette C. ; Cooper, Daniel W. ; Eisner, Lisa B. ; Duffy-Anderson, Janet T. ; Sheffield, Gay ; Pickart, Robert S. ; Mounsey, Anna ; Willis, Maryjean L. ; Stabeno, Phyllis J. ; Siddon, Elizabeth
    Climate change-related ocean warming and reduction in Arctic sea ice extent, duration and thickness increase the risk of toxic blooms of the dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella in the Alaskan Arctic. This algal species produces neurotoxins that impact marine wildlife health and cause the human illness known as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). This study reports Paralytic Shellfish Toxin (PST) concentrations quantified in Arctic food web samples that include phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthic clams, benthic worms, and pelagic fish collected throughout summer 2019 during anomalously warm ocean conditions. PSTs (saxitoxin equivalents, STX eq.) were detected in all trophic levels with concentrations above the seafood safety regulatory limit (80 μg STX eq. 100 g−1) in benthic clams collected offshore on the continental shelf in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas. Most notably, toxic benthic clams (Macoma calcarea) were found north of Saint Lawrence Island where Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) are known to forage for a variety of benthic species, including Macoma. Additionally, fecal samples collected from 13 walruses harvested for subsistence purposes near Saint Lawrence Island during March to May 2019, all contained detectable levels of STX, with fecal samples from two animals (78 and 72 μg STX eq. 100 g−1) near the seafood safety regulatory limit. In contrast, 64% of fecal samples from zooplankton-feeding bowhead whales (n = 9) harvested between March and September 2019 in coastal waters of the Beaufort Sea near Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) and Kaktovik were toxin-positive, and those levels were significantly lower than in walruses (max bowhead 8.5 μg STX eq. 100 g−1). This was consistent with the lower concentrations of PSTs found in regional zooplankton prey. Maximum ecologically-relevant daily toxin doses to walruses feeding on clams and bowhead whales feeding on zooplankton were estimated to be 21.5 and 0.7 μg STX eq. kg body weight−1 day−1, respectively, suggesting that walruses had higher PST exposures than bowhead whales. Average and maximum STX doses in walruses were in the range reported previously to cause illness and/or death in humans and humpback whales, while bowhead whale doses were well below those levels. These findings raise concerns regarding potential increases in PST/STX exposure risks and health impacts to Arctic marine mammals as ocean warming and sea ice reduction continue.
  • Article
    Harmful algal blooms in the Alaskan Arctic: an emerging threat as the ocean warms
    (Oceanography Society, 2022-04-18) Anderson, Donald M. ; Fachon, Evangeline ; Hubbard, Katherine A. ; Lefebvre, Kathi A. ; Lin, Peigen ; Pickart, Robert S. ; Richlen, Mindy L. ; Sheffield, Gay ; Van Hemert, Caroline
    Harmful algal blooms (HABs) present an emerging threat to human and ecosystem health in the Alaskan Arctic. Two HAB toxins are of concern in the region: saxitoxins (STXs), a family of compounds produced by the dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella, and domoic acid (DA), produced by multiple species in the diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia. These potent neurotoxins cause paralytic and amnesic shellfish poisoning, respectively, in humans, and can accumulate in marine organisms through food web transfer, causing illness and mortality among a suite of wildlife species. With pronounced warming in the Arctic, along with enhanced transport of cells from southern waters, there is significant potential for more frequent and larger HABs of both types. STXs and DA have been detected in the tissues of a range of marine organisms in the region, many of which are important food resources for local residents. The unique nature of the Alaskan Arctic, including difficult logistical access, lack of response infrastructure, and reliance of coastal populations on the noncommercial acquisition of marine resources for nutritional, cultural, and economic well-being, poses urgent and significant challenges as this region warms and the potential for impacts from HABs expands.