Laser photogrammetry improves size and demographic estimates for whale sharks

paperPublished on 07. April 2015

Laser photogrammetry improves size and demographic estimates for whale sharks

Christoph A. Rohner, Anthony J. Richardson, Clare E.M. Prebble, Andrea D. Marshall, Michael B. Bennett, Scarla J.Weeks, Geremy Cliff, Sabine P.Wintner, Simon J. Pierce


Whale sharks Rhincodon typus are globally threatened, but a lack of biological and demographic information hampers an accurate assessment of their vulnerability to further decline or capacity to recover. We used laser photogrammetry at two aggregation sites to obtain more accurate size estimates of free-swimming whale sharks compared to visual estimates, allowing improved estimates of biological parameters. Individual whale sharks ranged from 432–917 cm total length (TL) (mean ± SD = 673 ± 118.8 cm, N = 122) in southern Mozambique and from 420–990 cm TL (mean ± SD = 641 ± 133 cm, N = 46) in Tanzania. By combining measurements of stranded individuals with photogrammetry measurements of free-swimming sharks, we calculated length at 50% maturity for males in Mozambique at 916 cm TL. Repeat measurements of individual whale sharks measured over periods from 347–1,068 days yielded implausible growth rates, suggesting that the growth increment over this period was not large enough to be detected using laser photogrammetry, and that the method is best applied to estimating growth rates over longer (decadal) time periods. The sex ratio of both populations was biased towards males (74% in Mozambique, 89% in Tanzania), the majority of which were immature (98% in Mozambique, 94% in Tanzania). The population structure for these two aggregations was similar to most other documented whale shark aggregations around the world. Information on small (<400 cm) whale sharks, mature individuals, and females in this region is lacking, but necessary to inform conservation initiatives for this globally threatened species.

PeerJ 3:e886; DOI 10.7717/peerj.886



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