Whale Shark Seasonal Occurrence, Abundance and Demographic Structure in the Mid-Equatorial Atlantic Ocean
Published online on 26. October 2016
Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) Seasonal Occurrence, Abundance and Demographic Structure in the Mid-Equatorial Atlantic Ocean
Bruno C. L. Macena, Fábio H. V. Hazin
Whale sharks are generally associated with environmental factors that drive their movements to specific locations where food availability is high. Consequently, foraging is believed to be the main reason for the formation of whale shark aggregations. Feeding aggregations occur mainly in nearshore areas and are composed primarily of immature individuals. Conversely, aggregations of mature adults are rarely observed, and their occurrence is correlated with oceanic environments. Despite an increase in the number of whale shark studies, information on mating and parturition grounds is still lacking. In the present work, we assessed the ecological and behavioural aspects of the whale sharks that visit the archipelago of São Pedro and São Paulo (ASPSP), located ~1,000 km off the coast of Brazil in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. Forty-nine whale sharks were recorded from February 2005 to May 2014. The estimated mean ± SD size was 8.27 ± 2.52 m (range: 2.5–14.0 m) with no significant differences in size across the year. The maturational stages were classified by size as immature (<8.0 m; 32.56%) and mature (>9.0 m; 46.51%); with almost half of the observed animals being mature specimens. The majority of sightings occurred between February and June. During this period, the ocean current weakens and the waters are enriched by eggs and larvae of fishes and invertebrates that attract marine life to forage. At the same time, evidence of reproductive activity in adult females (i.e. swollen abdomen and bite marks on the pectoral fins), and the potential mating behaviour exhibited by one male, suggest that the ASPSP area might also have a role in whale shark reproduction. Irrespective of its use for feeding or reproduction, this insular habitat serves as a meeting point for both juvenile and adult whale sharks, and may play an important ecological role for the species.
PLoS ONE 11(10): e0164440. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0164440