Does the grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) exhibit agonistic pectoral fin depression?

paper8Published on 11. March 2016

Does the grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) exhibit agonistic pectoral fin depression? A stereo-video photogrammetric assessment off eastern Australia

Kirby R. Smith, Carol Scarpaci , Brett M. Louden, Nicholas M. Otway


Underwater stereo-video photogrammetry was used to document the pectoral fin positions of various life-history stages of the critically endangered east Australian population of the grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus) during normal swimming behaviour at multiple aggregation sites. A wide range in pectoral fin positions was recorded with dihedral pectoral fin angles ranging from –25 to 88°. Pectoral fin angles varied significantly among sites and this was attributed to the differing navigational and energetic requirements of the sharks. There was no significant relationship between pectoral fin angles and distances separating the shark and scuba diver. The wide range in pectoral fin angles, interactive use of the fins during swimming, low-energy behaviours of the sharks at aggregation sites and absence of ‘fight’ response agonistic behaviour indicated that the species does not exhibit agonistic pectoral fin depression. Reports of agonistic pectoral fin depression in the grey nurse shark obtained with visual estimates should be treated as preliminary observations requiring further testing using accurate sampling methods such as stereo photogrammetry. It is important that diver compliance with existing management guidelines that prohibit divers from chasing or harassing grey nurse sharks and blocking cave and gutter entrances is maintained.

Pacific Conservation Biology 22(1) 3-11, doi: 10.1071/PC15024



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