Genotoxins, such as polycyclic aromatic compounds, are ubiquitous in urban and industrial environments. Our understanding of the role that these chemicals play in generating DNA sequence mutations is predominantly derived from laboratory studies with specific genotoxins or extracts of contaminants from environmental media. Most assays are not indicative of the germinal effects of exposure in situ to complex mixtures of common environmental mutagens. Using multilocus DNA fingerprinting, we found the mutation rate in herring gulls inhabiting a heavily industrialized urban harbor (Hamilton Harbour, Ontario) to be more than twice as high as three rural sites: Kent Island, Bay of Fundy; Chantry Island, Lake Huron; and Presqu'ile Provincial Park in Lake Ontario. Overall we found a mutation rate of 0.017 +/- 0.004 per offspring band in Hamilton, 0.006 +/- 0.002 at Kent Island, 0.002 +/- 0.002 from Chantry Island, and 0.004 +/- 0.002 from Presqu'ile Provincial Park. The mutation rate from the rural sites (pooled) was significantly lower than the rate observed in Hamilton Harbour (Fisher's exact test, two-tailed; P = 0.0006). These minisatellite DNA mutations may be important biomarkers for heritable genetic changes resulting from in situ exposure to environmental genotoxins in a free-living vertebrate species.