Nuclear reprocessing-related radiocarbon (14C) uptake into UK marine mammals

Kieran M. Tierney, Graham K.P. Muir, Gordon T. Cook, Johanna J. Heymans, Gillian MacKinnon, John A. Howe, Sheng Xu, Andrew Brownlow, Nicholas J. Davison, Mariel ten Doeschate, Rob Deaville

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To evaluate the transfer of Sellafield-derived radiocarbon (14C) to top predators in the UK marine environment, 14C activities were examined in stranded marine mammals. All samples of harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) obtained from the Irish Sea showed 14C enrichment above background. Mammal samples obtained from the West of Scotland, including harbour porpoise, grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) showed 14C enrichment but to a lesser extent. This study demonstrates, for the first time, enriched 14C is transferred through the marine food web to apex predators as a consequence of ongoing nuclear reprocessing activities at Sellafield. Total Sellafield 14C discharge activity 24months prior to stranding and, in particular, distance of animal stranding site from Sellafield are significant variables affecting individual 14C activity. 14C activities of West of Scotland harbour porpoises suggest they did not forage in the Irish Sea prior to stranding, indicating a high foraging fidelity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-50
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2017


  • marine mammals
  • nuclear reprocessing
  • radiocarbon (14C)
  • Sellafield
  • nuclear fuel reprocessing
  • discharge activities
  • marine environment
  • Phocoena phocoena


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