Movements and habitat use of reef manta rays off eastern AustraliaPublished online on 09. September 2014
Movements and habitat use of reef manta rays off eastern Australia: offshore excursions, deep diving and eddy affinity revealed by satellite telemetry
F. R. A. Jaine, C. A. Rohner, S. J. Weeks, L. I. E. Couturier, M. B. Bennett,
K. A. Townsend, A. J. Richardson
Manta rays (Manta spp.) are plankton-feeding elasmobranchs classified as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species. Despite increasing public and scientific interest in manta rays, major knowledge gaps concerning their movement ecology and dispersal capabilities remain. Here, we used pop-off satellite-linked archival transmitting tags to examine the horizontal movements and habitat use patterns of reef manta rays (M. alfredi) departing Lady Elliot Island in the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Tagged individuals moved across a latitudinal range of 1035 km, travelling up to 2441 km in 118 d, diving down to 294.5 m and venturing up to 155 km off the continental shelf. Using random walk simulations, we showed that manta rays spent significantly more time in an offshore region characterised by the mesoscale cyclonic Capricorn Eddy than would be expected by chance. A behaviour-switching state-space model suggested this area to be an important foraging ground for M. alfredi off eastern Australia. We document the movements of 1 individual using offshore waters between 2 known aggregation regions off eastern Australia. Reef manta rays thus not only occupy inshore continental shelf and shelf-edge waters but also use offshore environments to exploit productive hotspots and travel long distances. Our findings highlight the need to better understand their movement ecology for effective management.
Mar Ecol Prog Ser. Vol. 510: 73–86, 2014. Doi: 10.3354/meps10910