Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Influence of mercury and selenium chemistries on the progression of cardiomyopathy in pygmy sperm whales, Kogia breviceps



Colleen E. Bryan Sallee, William C. Davis, Wayne E. McFee, Carola A. Neumann, Jennifer Schulte, Gregory D. Bossart, Steven J. Christopher


More than half of pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps) that strand exhibit signs of cardiomyopathy (CMP). Many factors may contribute to the development of idiopathic CMP in K. breviceps, including genetics, infectious agents, contaminants, biotoxins, and dietary intake (e.g. selenium, mercury, and pro-oxidants). This study assessed trace elements in K. breviceps at various stages of CMP progression using fresh frozen liver and heart samples collected from individuals that stranded along U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts between 1993-2007. Standard addition calibration and collision cell inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) were employed for total Se analysis and pyrolysis atomic absorption (AA) was utilized for total Hg analysis to examine if the Se/Hg detoxification pathway inhibits the bioavailability of Se. Double spike speciated isotope dilution gas chromatography ICP-MS was utilized to measure methyl Hg and inorganic Hg. Immunoblot detection and colorimetric assays were used to assess protein oxidation status. Data collected on trace elements, selenoproteins, and oxidative status were evaluated in the context of animal life history and other complementary histological information to gain insight into the biochemical pathways contributing to the development of CMP in K. breviceps. Cardiomyopathy was only observed in adult pygmy sperm whales, predominantly in male animals. Both Hg:Se molar ratios and overall protein oxidation were greater in males than females and increased with progression of CMP.


cardiomyopathy, Mercury, protein oxidation, pygmy sperm whale, selenium


Bryan, C. , Davis, W. , McFee, W. , Neumann, C. , Schulte, J. , Bossart, G. and Christopher, S. (2012), Influence of mercury and selenium chemistries on the progression of cardiomyopathy in pygmy sperm whales, Kogia breviceps, Chemosphere, [online], (Accessed July 23, 2024)


If you have any questions about this publication or are having problems accessing it, please contact

Created October 1, 2012, Updated January 27, 2020