Population structure of a whale shark aggregation in the Red Sea
Published online on 11. July 2016
Population structure of a whale shark Rhincodon typus aggregation in the Red Sea
J. E. M. Cochran, R. S. Hardenstine, C. D. Braun, G. B. Skomal, S. R. Thorrold, K. Xu, M. G. Genton, M. L. Berumen
The presence of whale sharks Rhincodon typus were recorded around Shib Habil, a small, coastal reef off the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia, from 2010 to 2015. A total of 267 suitable photographs resulting in the identification of 136 individuals, were documented from 305 encounters. Sharks were divided evenly between the sexes with no evidence of temporal or spatial segregation. All individuals were immature based on size estimates and, for males, juvenile clasper morphology. Scars were reported for 57% of R. typus with 15% showing evidence of propeller trauma. Estimates of population size and patterns of residency were calculated by modelling the lagged identification rate. Multiple models were run simultaneously and compared using the Akaike information criterion. An open population model was found to best represent the data and estimates a daily abundance between 15 and 34 R. typus during the aggregation season, with local residence times ranging from 4 to 44 days. Residence times away from Shib Habil range from 15 to 156 days with a permanent emigration–death rate between 0·07 and 0·58 individuals year−1. These results are broadly similar to those from other aggregations of R. typus, although the observed sexual parity and integration found at this site is unique for the species and needs further study.
Journal of Fish Biology. Early View Version, doi: 10.1111/jfb.13054