In November 2002, the tanker Prestige broke in two and sank at the bottom of the ocean spilling about 70,000 t of fuel oil, which reached the coast of Galicia. It was considered the largest spill in maritime history, greatly affecting marine and related avian species. The spilled fuel oil contained high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Many species were affected and were found dead, although ongoing research is still being carried out on the sublethal effects. In this sense, little is known about the action of PAHs on Cholinesterase activity in seabirds. Consequently, the purpose of this study was to provide more information on the neurotoxicity of fuel oil on the seabirds most affected by the Prestige accident: common guillemot, Atlantic puffin and razorbill. On the other hand, data on normal values of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity were obtained to supply non-exposed values in seabirds. The oil spill produced a clear inhibitory effect on brain AChE activity in common guillemot (16%, p ≤ 0.01) and razorbill (22%, p ≤ 0.01), but not in Atlantic puffin (4%). Physiological levels of brain AChE, expressed in nmol acetylcholine hydrolysed min− 1 mg− 1 protein were similar in non-exposed common guillemot (388.6 ± 95.0) and Atlantic puffin (474.0 ± 60.7), however, razorbill values were higher (644.6 ± 66.9).
Pérez, C., Velando, A., Munilla, I., López-Alonso, M. & Oro, D. Monitoring Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Pollution in the marine environment after the Prestige oil spill by means of seabird blood analysis. Environmental Science & Technology 42, 707–713 (2008).
In this studywetested the use of seabird blood as a bioindicator of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) pollution in the marine environment. Blood cells of breeding yellow-legged gulls (Larus michahellis) were able to track spatial and temporal changes consistent with the massive oil pollution pulse that resulted from the Prestige oil spill. Thus, in 2004, blood samples from yellow-legged gulls breeding in colonies that were in the trajectory of the spill doubled in their total PAH concentrations when compared to samples from unoiled colonies. Furthermore, PAH levels in gulls from an oiled colony decreased by nearly a third in two consecutive breeding seasons (2004 and 2005). Experimental evidence was gathered by means of an oil ingestion field experiment. The total concentration of PAHs in the blood of gulls given oil supplements was 30% higher compared to controls. This strongly suggested that measures of PAHs in the blood of gulls are sensitive to the ingestion of small quantities of oil. Our study provides evidence that seabirds were exposed to residual Prestige oil 17 months after the spill commenced and gives support to the nondestructive use of seabirds as biomonitors of oil pollution in marine environments.