Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon sources related to biomarker levels in fish from Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska. Academic Article uri icon


  • Seafloor sediments in Prince William Sound (PWS) and the eastern Gulf of Alaska (GOA) have a substantial regional hydrocarbon background from natural sources including oil seeps and eroding sedimentary rocks along the eastern GOA coast. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from that background appear to be bioavailable to fish. Fish collected from PWS and the GOA in a 1999--2000 biomarker study (bile fluorescent aromatic contaminants and liver ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase) show evidence of exposure to low levels of PAH at all categories of sites sampled. Seafloor sediments at fish sampling sites in the GOA east of PWS and at three PWS site categories (nonspill path, spill path oiled, and spill path not oiled) contain hydrocarbons from four principal sources: regional background, combustion products, residues from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS), and Monterey (CA) petroleum residues. GOA sediments between PWS and Yakutat Bay, approximately 350 km to the east, are dominated by regional petrogenic background hydrocarbons (total PAH (TPAH) range approximately 60-3400 ng/g) that are the probable cause of low biomarker levels measured in halibut from this area. PWS sediments contain varying proportions of regional background, combustion products, Monterey residues, and EVOS residues at some spill path sites. Rockfish caught in PWS embayments in 1999 have liver EROD activities that correlate positively with the pyrogenic PAH indicator ratio (FI+Py)/C24Ph. Although traces (<5-100 ng/g TPAH) of EVOS residues were detected in seafloor sediments at some nearshore spill path sites, biomarker levels in fish from those sites are not elevated relative to other sites in PWS.

publication date

  • October 1, 2004