Quantifying the estuarine–nearshore transition in life cycle of bull sharks

Published online on 2 November 2011

A multi-faceted approach for quantifying the estuarine–nearshore transition in the life cycle of the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas

J. M. Werry, S. Y. Lee, N. M. Otway, Y. Hu and W. Sumpton


Understanding the ontogenetic habitat linkages of sharks is important for conservation and managing human interactions. We used acoustic telemetry, catch data, elemental and stable isotope signatures and dietary analyses to investigate ontogenetic habitat use in south-east Queensland, Australia, by the bull shark Carcharhinus leucas, a IUCN ‘near-threatened’ species that is implicated in many shark attacks on humans in urban estuaries. Sequential analyses for δ15N and δ13C of vertebrae from five adult C. leucas and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS) for elemental composition from 23 C. leucas, including a pregnant female, were also used to trace ontogenetic habitat dependence. Acoustic telemetry indicated large juvenile and subadult C. leucas remained in estuarine habitats. δ15N values across shark vertebrae showed an ontogenetic shift in diet with total length (TL), confirmed by stomach contents. LA-ICPMS data reflected the ontogenetic movements of C. leucas from natal habitats. Differences among adults were gender related. Shifts in habitat use by subadults were correlated with a sigmoidal δ13C relationship with TL. C. leucas have a multipartite, stage-specific dependency in their transition between habitats along the freshwater–estuarine–marine continuum, making them particularly susceptible to the habitat alteration that is occurring globally.

Marine and Freshwater Research – Online Early Issue http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF11136



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