USGS



BIOLOGICAL AND ECOTOXICOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF TERRESTRIAL VERTEBRATE SPECIES RESIDING IN ESTUARIES

Surf Scoter Photo of Surf Scoter by Karen Benzel PR, IBRRC
(Photo by Karen Benzel PR, IBRRC)
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Biological Characteristics

Species

 Melanitta perspicillata averages from 44 cm, 900 grams (female) to 48 cm, 1050 grams (male). The adult male is entirely velvety black, except for a white patch on forehead and larger white triangle on the nape (Savard 1998). The presence of black feathers anywhere on the body is indicative of an adult male (Johnsgard 1975). The adult female is dark to black brown above and slightly paler brown below, and occasionally has whitish feather edgings on sides and flanks. The female also has 2 indistinct whitish patches on cheeks below eyes, and sometimes variably distinct whitish patch on nape (Savard 1998).  The adult male has a “prizefighter’s” hump on his large multicolored bill: a round black spot near the base, margined above and at the rear by orange, below and in front in white; the ridge and nostril area are reddish as far down as the yellow bill tip.  In the female and the juvenile, the bill is smoother and dark gray, with a darker spot at its base. Juveniles are similar in appearance to females but the two white facial spots are usually more distinct and the white nape spot is absent (Bellrose 1980).

Nesting and Status in Estuarine and Coastal Areas

Surf scoters spend winters in estuaries and shallow marine coastal waters from the Aleutian Islands and South coast of Alaska to California and on the East Coast (Savard, 1998 and Goudie et al 1994). This species nests in a dry place in brushy or forested surroundings, less often in herbaceous growth (Palmer, 1976). The nest is a hollow in the ground lined with vegetative debris and down, usually well concealed when viewed from above. Chicks are precocial and downey at hatching, growing rapidly with an 18-fold increase in mass in 55 days (Savard, 1998). Clutch size averages 5 to 7 ovate, pinkish or buff-white eggs (Bent, 1925). Lifespan is not well documented for this species (Savard 1998).

Abundance and Range

One survey has estimated 536,000 breeding surf scoters for Northwestern North America (Goudie et al. 1994) A 1991 CWS survey revealed a rough estimate of 31,000 breeding pairs for Quebec and 5,000 breeding pairs estimated for Labrador (Erskine 1987). Vermeer (1981) estimated 650,000 surf scoters along coastal British Columbia in March, 1978. This species breeds inland, at large freshwater, rocky shored lakes and ponds across Western Canada to Yukon and Northeastern Alaska.  The wintering range is along both east and west coasts of North America, especially in Southeastern Alaska (Savard, 1998 and Goudie et al, 1994).

Site Fidelity

Information not available

Ease of Census

Moderate

Feeding Habits

The surf scoter feeds largely on mollusks, along with crustaceans, insects, fishes, and echinoderms. Plants consumed are mainly pond weeds and sedges (Palmer 1976). Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) are an important part of the diet in marine habitats outside of breeding season. Freshwater invertebrates are important to the diet during breeding season (Savard 1998). Food is captured mostly underwater. In marine waters, scoters prey on stationary organisms (mussels, clams) in flocks ranging from a few to several thousand birds. On freshwater ponds, scoters forage in pairs or small groups feeding on free-swimming invertebrates (Savard 1998).


Surf Scoter Contaminant Exposure Data

  I.

Organochlorine Contaminants

1.

Carcasses and breast muscles from adult male surf scoters collected in January 1985 (n=19) and March 1985 (n=17) at 6 locations in San Francisco Bay were analyzed for organochlorines (Ohlendorf, 1991). Organochlorine concentrations (ww) were measurable in only 2 of 19 breast muscle samples (0.17 mg/g DDE, 0.45 mg/g PCB from Richmond Harbor and 0.17 mg/g DDE from Redwood Creek). The highest mean concentrations of DDE occurred in the carcasses of scoters collected from Richmond Harbor in March (2.39 mg/g), while scoters from Coyote Creek and Pt. San Pablo did not show significant seasonal differences (.596 and .582 mg/g respectively for January, and 1.12 and .298 mg/g respectively for March). 3 of 7 samples from Richmond Harbor contained DDD (0.15, 0.19 mg/g Jan, 0.95 mg/g Mar), DDT (0.11, 0.14 mg/g Jan, 1.3 mg/g Mar) and dieldrin (0.13 mg/g Jan, 0.22 and 0.38 mg/g Mar) and 2 of 12 from Coyote Creek contained dieldrin (0.11 and 0.12 mg/g for Jan and Mar respectively). Highest mean concentration of PCBs occurred in carcasses of scoters collected from Redwood Creek in Jan. (2.77 mg/g) and from Dumbarton Bridge in Mar. (2.77 mg/g). 

2.

Elevated concentrations of PCDD and PCDF: 1,2,3,4,7,8-HCDD, 2,3,4,7,8-PCDD, 2,3,7,8-TCDD, and 2,3,7,8-TCDF were found in livers of 5 surf scoters (3 male and 2 female) collected near pulp mills at Port Alberni, British Columbia during April 1989 (Vermeer et al, 1993). The highest mean levels found were TCDD residues: 2,3,7,8-TCDD (approx. 30 pg/g ww) and 2,3,7,8-TCDF (approx. 130 pg/g). Other contaminants detected were 1,2,3,4,7,8-HCDD (approx. 30 pg/g) and 2,3,4,7,8-PCDD (approx. 15 pg/g).

3.

Breast muscle samples from adult male and juvenile surf scoters collected in 3 locations [Alsea Bay, Oregon (reference site); Commencement Bay, Washington; Elliot Bay, Washington] in October 1984 (early) and January 1985 (late) were analyzed for organochlorine residues (Henny et al., 1991). The range of detectable concentrations (mg/g ww, all locations) was 0.02 - 0.08 for DDE, 0.03 – 0.12 for cis-chlordane, 0.03 for trans-nonachlor, and 0.06 – 0.22 for PCBs. Geometric means were determined for DDE: Alsea Bay, adults late 0.021; Elliott Bay, adults early 0.023; Commencement Bay, juveniles late 0.16, adults early 0.030, adults late 0.019.  The geometric mean for PCBs were: Elliott Bay, adults early 0.125; Commencement Bay, juveniles late 0.077, adults early 0.065, adults late 0.095; Alsea Bay (only 1 in 25 scoters contained PCBs, concentration not given).

II.

Cholinesterase-Inhibiting Pesticides

 

No direct exposure data available

III.

Trace Elements, Metals, and Metalloids

1.

Livers from 20 surf scoters collected March 1976 at Iona Island (n=10) and Roberts Bank (n=10), both in Vancouver, B.C., were analyzed for trace metal residues (Vermeer and Peakall, 1979).  Mean Hg residue concentrations were high in scoters at both locations (2.12 mg/g ww at Iona Island and 0.93 mg/g at Roberts Bank). Concentrations of all other trace metals in mg/g ww were: Iona Island:  Ag = 0.14, Cu = 10.96, Pb = 0.24, Zn = 35.92.  Roberts Bank: Ag = 0.03, Cu = 10.41, Pb = 0.14, Zn = 31.02.

2.

Livers from 22 surf scoters collected on 25 March and 9 April 1982 at four locations in South San Francisco Bay were analyzed for trace metals (Ohlendorf et al., 1986). Mean concentrations of trace metals (mg/g dw) were: Ag = 0.9, Hg = 12.5,  Pb = 0.451,  Cu = 49.8,  Zn = 131, Se = 34.4, Cd = 24.6.  Cr and Ni occurred in less than 50% of the livers and no values were recorded. High concentrations of Hg were found in birds from each area with the highest concentrations reported in scoters from Redwood City (32 mg/g ) and near Dumbarton Bridge (28 mg/g).  Molar concentrations of Hg and Se in the livers were correlated and averaged 1: 6.0 as the ratio of Hg to Se. 

3.

Livers from 44 adult male surf scoters were collected from 3 locations:  [Alsea Bay, Oregon (reference site); Commencement Bay, Washington; Elliot Bay, Washington] in October 1984 (early) and January 1985 (late). Samples were analyzed for 9 trace metals (Henny et al., 1991). Mercury concentrations (geometric means, mg/g dw) more than doubled at each location from October to January (Alsea Bay 1.73 to 3.95, Commencement Bay 1.90 to 4.19, and Elliott Bay 0.41 to 1.01).  Concentrations of Cd (mg/g dw) in kidney at Alsea Bay (42.7 early and 54.8 late) were significantly higher than either Commencement Bay (33.9 early and 30.8 late) or Elliott Bay (26.6 early and 29.1 late). Cu concentrations did not significantly change from October to January at any location, but January means at each location were below October means (Alsea Bay 119.2 early vs 89.6 late, Commencement Bay 57.7 early vs 54.9 late, and Elliott Bay 47.9 early vs 36 late). Aluminum was found in greater concentrations at Alsea Bay for combined seasons than the other two locations (Alsea Bay 5.4 vs Elliott Bay 2.6 and Commencement Bay 2.8). For the combined seasons Mn showed no significant differences in locations (Alsea Bay 17.9, Elliott Bay 14.4, and Commencement Bay 16.3) and Zn was slightly higher at Alsea Bay (142.1) than Elliott Bay (111.5) and Commencement Bay (129.5). 

4.

When Cd concentrations (mg/g dw) in kidneys of hatch-year (juvenile) birds collected in October 1984 (1.13, n=14) were compared with adults collected concurrently (33.8, n=16), it was apparent that surf scoters wintering in Oregon (Alsea Bay) and Washington (Elliot Bay, Commencement Bay) accumulated Cd during their life (Henny et al., 1991).  Cadmium increased significantly in kidneys from October 1984 to January 1985 in hatch year sea scoters collected at two sites in Oregon and Washington (0.94 vs. 5.18). Selenium concentrations were higher in adult male livers (26.2) compared to juvenile livers (6.3).  No age related differences were found for As and Al.

5.

Livers from adult male scoters collected in January 1985 (n=39) and March 1985 (n=40) at locations in North and South San Francisco Bay were analyzed for trace metals (Ohlendorf et al., 1991). The mean concentrations (mg/g dw) were: Overall, Cd (5.45 north, 7.94 south) and Zn (115 north, 123 south) were higher from the southern region of the bay whereas Fe (1810 north Jan, 1280 south Jan) and Pb (0.572 north Jan, 0.311 south Jan) were higher in the northern region.  Selenium and Hg were found at concentrations greater than those associated with adverse effects on other waterfowl. Livers averaged about 60 mg/g Se and 10 mg/g Hg for combined time periods. At each of the five locations for both time periods there was a shift toward greater levels of Hg in relation to those of Se.  Arsenic concentrations were higher in January (ranging from 0.667 to 1.25) than in March (ranging from 0.46 to 0.715) but no overall regional difference was observed. Copper and Zn concentrations were higher in March (Cu range 41.3 to 58.3 and Zn range 103 to 130) than in January (Cu range 29.3 to 47 and Zn range 11 to 127) and higher in south bay birds. Aluminum concentrations were not different between regions in either time period (8.63 north and 6.80 south, Jan; 5.90 north, 7.79 south, Mar). Measurable concentrations of Co, Ni, and Sn occurred in too few birds for statistical analysis. Manganese concentrations ranged from 15 to 21, Co ranged from 0.12 to 0.42, Ni values ranged from 0.09 to 1.1 with highest concentrations in Pt. San Pablo. Values of Sn were measurable in only 3 birds ranging from 0.34 to 3.4 with highest concentrations in a bird collected from Richmond Harbor.

6.

Adult male surf scoters (n=21) collected March 1989 from 2 locations in San Francisco Bay were analyzed for hepatic trace metals (Hoffman et al., 1998). In Suisun Bay (n=10) the mean hepatic Se concentration (119 mg/g dw) was 6 fold higher than at Tomales Bay (20, n=11), the reference site. Mercury mean concentration was nearly 2 fold higher in Tomales Bay (19) than at Suisun Bay (10).  No significant relationship was found between Se and Hg concentrations at either location. Mean hepatic Cd concentrations were low and did not differ between locations (Suisun Bay = 6, Tomales Bay=8).

7. 

Livers from 10 male after hatch year surf scoters collected from Cape Yakataga, Alaska in August 1990 were analyzed for trace metal and found to have the following mean concentrations (mg/g dw):  Cd = 15, Se = NA, Cu = 110, Hg = 1.3, Fe = 8500, Mg = 1200, Mn = 15, Zn = 200 (Henny et al., 1995).

8.

Livers from 5 male after hatch year surf scoters collected at Cape Yakataga, Alaska in August 1991 were analyzed for trace metals and found to have the following mean concentrations (mg/g dw): Cd = 5.0 (16.5 in kidney), Se = 14; Cu = 75, Hg = 7.2, Fe = 14,400, Mg = 937, Mn = 23, Zn = 193  (Henny et al., 1995).

9.

Pooled liver samples from 2 to 11 individuals belonging to 7 species of seaduck (including surf scoters) were collected from various locations on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada during December 1989 through March 1992 and analyzed for BTs (Butyltins) (Kannan et al., 1998). The livers of all coastal birds contained detectable concentrations of Tributyltin (TBT) and its breakdown products, mono-(MBT) and di-butyltin (DBT). Surf scoters contained BTs (ng/g ww) ranging from 30 at Kitimat (MBT = 13, DBT = 17, TBT = trace.) to 1,100 ng/g at Burrard Inlet (MBT = 450, DBT = 630, TBT =15). 

IV.

Petroleum

1.

On September 6, 1956 the freighter Seagate ran aground on rocks near Pt. Grenville, Washington spilling fuel oil (Richardson, 1956). Stretches of beaches between Grays Harbor and Ruby Beach were examined for oiled birds. A single oiled surf scoter was found. 

2.

Two tankers collided in the mouth of San Francisco Bay on January 18, 1971 spilling 840,000 gallons of bunker C fuel oil (Smail et al., 1972). This oil spread over 17 miles out to sea and along the coast from Drake’s Bay south to Pt. Ano Nuevo during the following days.  An estimate of 6,000 oiled birds passed through cleaning stations, while an estimated minimum mortality of 20,000 birds may have resulted. Birds were censused at four cleaning stations along the coast of California. The following are numbers of oiled surf scoters delivered to the stations: Bolinas 69, Tiburon 120, Farallon Islands 0, Pacifica 380 (the figure for Pacifica is for a combined count of white winged and surf scoters).  

3.

On 19 March 1984 the tanker Mobiloil ran aground spilling 170,000 to 230,000 gallons of heavy residual oil, No. 6 fuel oil, and an industrial fuel oil into the Columbia River near St. Helens, Oregon (Speich and Thompson, 1987). Of the 450 live oiled birds retrieved from the vicinity of the spill, 8 or 2% of the total were oiled surf scoters. Oiled birds retrieved during 23 March to 23 April 1984 were cleaned at a treatment center and 284 birds were released. Species identities of released birds were not recorded.

4.

On 21 December 1984 an unidentified vessel released around 5000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil into Puget Sound near Whidby Island, Washington (Speich and Thompson, 1987).  Surf scoters (N=22) were found oiled and free roaming on the beaches near the spill and 11 were taken alive to the cleaning station.

5.

Surf scoters (n=10) were among 6000 seabirds found dead from oiling after the barge Apex Houston discharged up to 25,800 gallons of crude oil from Point Reyes to Monterey, California between January 28 and February 4, 1986 (Page et al., 1990). Between 1–8 February 1986, a total of 20 surf scoters and 22 unidentified scoters were found oiled, but alive (1.3 % of all birds found live and oiled) and were taken to a cleaning station for treatment.

 6.

Of the oiled surf scoters (n=6) recovered from the 1989 EXXON VALDEZ oil spill in Prince William Sound, AK, 3 died, 1 was euthanized, and 2 were cleaned and released (Maki, 1990).

  7. 

A single surf scoter was recovered dead during a survey of damage caused by the September 26, 1998 M/T COMMAND oil (intermediate bunker fuel) spill (USFWS, 2002).  

Surf Scoter Contaminant Response Data

I.

Organochlorine Contaminants

 

No response data available

II.

Cholinesterase-Inhibiting Pesticides

 

No response data available

III.

Trace Elements, Metals, and Metalloids

 1.

Body weight and liver weights of adult male surf scoters collected in 3 locations [Alsea Bay, Oregon (reference site); Commencement Bay, Washington; Elliot Bay, Washington] in October 1984 (early) and January 1985 (late) were compared among locations and time periods as a first step to determine if contaminants influenced these parameters (Henny et al., 1991).  Body weight did not vary among locations or time periods; however, liver weight varied significantly and was lowest at Alsea Bay (late, body 1113 g, liver 35 g) and highest at Commencement Bay (early, body 1175 g, liver 54.4 g). A review of contaminant concentrations indicated that Cd (mg/g dw) was highest at Alsea Bay (12.5 early and 12.9 late).  Correlation analysis of liver weight with Cd concentrations in the liver and kidney showed no correlation in the October series of adult males, but there was a significant negative correlation in the January series-liver and kidney.  The inverse relationship with both body and liver weights, coupled with the high Cd concentrations, imply that Cd may adversely affect some scoters.

2.

Adult male surf scoters (n=21) collected March 1989 from 2 locations in San Francisco Bay [Tomales Bay (reference site) and Suisun Bay] were analyzed for hepatic trace metals (Hoffman et al., 1998).  A number of significant relationships between biological effects and hepatic Hg or Se concentrations were found. Body weight, liver weight, and heart weight were found to decrease with increasing log(Hg) concentrations for birds from both locations.  Hepatic supernatants were assayed for enzymes related to glutathione (GSH) metabolism and antioxidant activity, including glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G-6-PDH) and glutathione peroxidase (GSH peroxidase).  Hepatic GSH peroxidase activity was found to increase with log(Se) concentration for both locations. Hepatic G-6-PDH was found to decrease with increasing log(Hg) concentration for Suisun Bay birds, but remained depressed  in activity for Tomales Bay birds, in which Hg concentrations were much higher. Hepatic GSH concentration was found to decrease with increasing log(Hg) concentration for birds from both locations.

IV.

Petroleum

  1.

Bile samples from surf scoters (n=4) collected during the winter of 1989-1990 in areas exposed to contamination by oil from the T/V EXXON VALDEZ oil spill of March 1989 were analyzed for petroleum hydrocarbons or PAHs (Alaska DFG, 2000).  These results were compared to scoters (n=2) from a control area. Scoters from the exposed area had the following concentrations of Naphthalene-eq/ Phenanthrene-eq (mg/g dw):  Cabin Bay (150/ 28), Main Bay (69/ 10), Chief Cove (82/ 12), Chief Cove (98/ 15). Both control area scoters were from Douglas Island: (74/ 17) and (83/ 6).   

  2.

Survival rates for oiled surf scoters (n=8) that were cleaned and released was calculated using historical files from the Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent River (Sharp, 1996).  The mean survival rate was 39 days and the median days survived was 5 days.


References for Surf Scoter

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 2000. Assessment of Injury to Sea Ducks from Hydrocarbon Uptake in Prince William Sound and the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska, Following the EXXON VALDEZ Oil Spill. Anchorage, AK.

Bellrose, F. C. 1976. Ducks Geese and Swans of North America. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pa. 540 pp.

Bryan, G.W. 1971. Effects of heavy metals (other than mercury) on marine and estuarine organisms. Proc.R.Soc.,B. 177: 389-410.

Erskine, J.A., 1987. A preliminary waterfowl population budget for the Atlantic provinces, 1978-85, in Waterfowl Breeding Population Surveys, Atlantic provinces. Can. Wildl. Serv. Occas. Pap. No. 60: 65-72.

Goudie, R.I., S. Brault, B. Conant, A.V. Kondratyev, R. Petersen, K. Vermeer. 1994. The status of sea ducks in the north Pacific rim: toward their conservation and management. Trans. N. Am. Wildl. Nat. Resour. Conf. 59: 27-49.

Henny, C. J., L.J. Blus, R.A. Grove, S.P. Thompson. 1991. Accumulation of trace elements and organochlorines by surf scoters wintering in the Pacific Northwest. Northwest. Nat. 72: 43-60.

Henny, C.J., D.D. Rudis, T.J. Roffe, E. Robinson-Wilson. 1995. Contaminants and Sea Ducks in Alaska and the Circumpolar Region. Environ. Health Perspect. 103:41-49.

Hoffman, D.J., H.M. Ohlendorf, C.M. Marn, G.W.  Pendleton. 1998. Association of mercury and selenium with altered glutathione metabolism and oxidative stress in diving ducks from the San Francisco Bay region, USA. Environ. Toxicol. Chem.17:167-172.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1975. Waterfowl of North America. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.  575 pp.

 Kannan, K., K. Senthilkumar, J.E. Elliott, L.A. Feyk, J.P. Giesy. 1998. Occurrence of butyltin compounds in tissues of water birds and seaducks from the United States and Canada. Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 35:64-69.

Lowman, F.G., T.R. Rice, A.F. Richards. 1971.  Accumulation and redistribution of radionucleotides by marine organisms. Radioactivity in the Marine Environment, U.S.Nat.Acad.Sci.  272 pp.

Maki, A.W.  1990. The Exxon Valdez wildlife rescue and rehabilitation program. Trans. 55’th N.A. Wildl. & Nat. Res. Conf. 193-203.

Ohlendorf, H.M., R.W. Lowe, P.R. Kelly, T.E. Harvey. 1986.  Selenium and heavy metals in San Francisco Bay [California, USA] diving ducks.  J. Wildl. Manage. 50:64-71.

Ohlendorf, H.M., K.C. Marois, R.W. Lowe, T.E. Harvey, P.R. Kelly. 1991.  Trace elements and organochlorines in surf scoters from San Francisco Bay, 1985 [California, USA].  Environ. Monitor. Assess. 18:105-122.

Page, G.W., H.R. Carter, R.G. Ford. 1990. Numbers of seabirds killed or debilitated in the 1986 Apex Houston oil spill in central California. Studies in Avian Biology 14:164-174.

Palmer, R.S. 1976. Handbook of North American Birds, Vol 3 (Waterfowl). Yale University Press. New Haven.  560 pp.

Richardson, F. 1956. Sea birds affected by oil from the freighter Seagate. The Murrelet 37(2):20-22.

Savard, J-P.L., D. Bordage, A. Reed. 1998.  Surf Scoter, in The Birds of North America, No. 363. Alaska Resources Library and Information Services. Anchorage,  Alaska. 27 pp.

Sharp, B. E. 1996. Post-release survival of oiled, cleaned seabirds in North America.  Ibis 138: 222-228.

Smail, J., D.G. Ainley, H. Strong. 1972. Notes on birds killed in the 1971 San Francisco oil spill. California Birds 3(2):25-32.

Speich, S.M., S.P. Thompson. 1987. Impacts on waterbirds from the 1984 Columbia River and Whidby Island, Washington, oil spills. Western Birds 18:109-116.

USFWS, NOAA, CDFG, CDPR, and CSLC. 2002. COMMAND oil spill public scoping document for restoration planning. 1-6.

Vermeer, K. 1981. Food and populations of surf scoters in British Coloumbia.  Wildfowl 32: 107-116.

Vermeer, K., D.B. Peakall. 1979. Trace metals in seaducks of the Fraser River Delta intertidal area, British Columbia. Mar. Pollut. Bull. 10:189-193. 

Vermeer, K., W.J. Cretney, J.E. Elliott, J. Norstrom, P.E. Whitehead. 1993. Elevated polychlorinated dibenzodioxin and dibenzofuran concentrations in grebes, ducks and their prey near Port Alberni, British Columbia, Cananda.  Mar. Pollut. Bull.  26:431-435.

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