Blood plasma levels of heavy metals and trace elements in white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and potential health consequences

Liza Merly, Lucia Lange, Michael Meÿer, Adrian Michael Hewitt, Pieter Koen, Chris Fischer, Johann Muller, Volker Schilack, Mauritz Wentzel, Neil Hammerschlag

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Heavy metals may adversely affect health in marine organisms. As top predators, sharks may be especially vulnerable to exposure over long lifespans. Here we evaluate plasma levels of 14 heavy metals and 12 trace elements in white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, in South Africa to determine whether they are related to sex, body size, and/or body condition and other health parameters. High levels of mercury and arsenic were found in shark blood at levels considered toxic in other vertebrates. Heavy metal concentrations were not related to body size or sex. Metal concentrations were not related to body condition with exception of copper, which was positively correlated. Protective effects of elements such as selenium, zinc, and iron were not detected. No negative effects on health parameters, such as total leukocytes or granulocyte to lymphocyte ratios were observed. Results suggest that sharks may have protective mechanisms that mitigate harmful effects of heavy metal exposure, providing new opportunities for future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
StatePublished - May 1 2019



  • Arsenic
  • Carcharodon carcharias
  • Heavy metals
  • Mercury
  • Trace elements
  • White sharks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution

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