Alonso-Alvarez, C., Pérez, C. & Velando, A. Effects of acute exposure to heavy fuel oil from the Prestige spill on a seabird. Aquatic Toxicology 84, 103–110 (2007). doi:10.1016/j.aquatox.2007.06.004.
Large quantities of petroleum products are released into the marine environment as result of tanker wrecks. Such catastrophic events have a dramatic impact on marine ecosystems, affecting a broad range of species. Seabirds are placed at the uppermost trophic level of the marine food chain. Therefore, important toxic effects are expected in these organisms. The recent Prestige oil spill gave the opportunity to test this. A previous study reported that yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) breeding in the oiled area (17 months after the spill) showed differences both in plasma biochemistry and in the total circulating levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (TPAHs) in blood regard to gulls sampled in clean areas. In the present study, wild yellow-legged gulls were fed with heavy fuel oil from the Prestige oil spill (P-gulls) and compared with control gulls (C-gulls) fed only with the vehicle (vegetable oil). Consistent with the cited previous findings, gulls fed with fuel oil showed reduced glucose and inorganic phosphorus levels in plasma, as well as a trend to significantly reduced creatinine values. In addition, glucose concentration was negatively related to TPAH levels. Males but not females fed with fuel oil showed higher plasma activity of asparatate aminotransferase (AST) than controls. With regard to plasma activity of gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), the results were opposite to the previous study. The GGT activity increased in C-females, apparently to meet with increased liver metabolism due to egg laying demands, but not in P-females. Differences to the previous study possibly reflect different adaptive responses of these enzymes to an acute short-term exposure to heavy fuel oil. Since the yellow-legged gull belongs to a complex of species widely distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere, the results as a whole might provide a tool for future evaluations of short- and long-term effects of oil spills on seabirds. Decreased glucose and inorganic phosphorus levels in plasma are expected in both short- and long-lasting exposures to fuel oil, whereas responses of AST and GGT enzymes would depend on both the sex of individuals and the temporal pattern of exposure.