Distribution and Dynamic Habitat Use of Young Bull Sharks in a Highly Stratified Northern Gulf of Mexico Estuary

paperPublished on 19. May 2014

Distribution and Dynamic Habitat Use of Young Bull Sharks Carcharhinus leucas in a Highly Stratified Northern Gulf of Mexico Estuary

J. Marcus Drymon, Matthew J. Ajemian, Sean P. Powers


Understanding how animals alter habitat use in response to changing abiotic conditions is important for effective conservation management. For bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), habitat use has been widely examined in the eastern and western Gulf of Mexico; however, knowledge of their movements and the factors influencing them is lacking for populations in the more temperate north-central Gulf of Mexico. To examine how changes in hydrographic conditions affected the presence of young bull sharks in Mobile Bay, Alabama, thirty-five sharks were fitted with internal acoustic transmitters and monitored with an acoustic monitoring array consisting of thirty-three receivers between June 2009 and December 2010. Tagged sharks ranged in size from 60 to 114 cm fork length and were detected between the upper and lower portions of Mobile Bay. Despite a variety of freshwater sources associated with this highly productive estuary, sharks were most consistently detected at the largest input to the system – the Mobile and Tensaw Rivers. Our findings suggest a combination of hydrographic factors interact to influence the distribution of juvenile bull sharks in Mobile Bay. The factors affecting the probability of detecting at least one bull shark varied both temporally (2009 vs 2010) and spatially (upper vs lower bay). Electivity analysis demonstrated that bull sharks showed highest affinity for warm water (29–32°C), moderate salinities (10–11 psu) and normoxic waters (5–7 mg/l), although these patterns were not consistent between regions or across years. We suggest future studies coupling telemetry and hydrographic variables should, when possible, consider the interactions of multiple environmental parameters when defining the dynamic factors explaining the spatial distribution of coastal sharks.

PLoS ONE 9(5): e97124. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097124




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