Movements of the white shark in the North Atlantic Ocean

Published on 29. September 2017

Movements of the white shark Carcharodon carcharias in the North Atlantic Ocean

Skomal GB, Braun CD, Chisholm JH, Thorrold SR


In the western North Atlantic, much of what is known about the movement ecology of the white shark Carcharodon carcharias is based on historical fisheries-dependent catch records, which portray a shelf-oriented species that moves north and south seasonally. In this study, we tagged 32 white sharks (16 females, 7 males, 9 unknown), ranging from 2.4 to 5.2 m total length, with satellite-based tags to investigate broad-scale movements in the North Atlantic. Based on 10427 days of tracking data, we found that white sharks are more broadly distributed, both horizontally and vertically, throughout the North Atlantic than previously understood, exhibiting an ontogenetic shift from near-coastal, shelf-oriented habitat to pelagic habitat with frequent excursions to mesopelagic depths. During the coastal phase, white sharks migrated seasonally from the northeast shelf in the summer to overwintering habitat off the southeastern US and the Gulf of Mexico, spending 95% of their time at <50 m depth. During the pelagic phase, subadult and adult white sharks exhibited wide-ranging movements during the fall, winter, and spring into the broader Atlantic over a 30° latitudinal range and as far east as the Azores. These sharks moved daily to depths of up to 1128 m, spending significant time at specific mesopelagic depth zones through a temperature range of 1.6 to 30.4°C. We believe these movements are associated with offshore foraging facilitated by the thermal physiology of the species. Our findings extend the known essential habitat for the white shark in the North Atlantic beyond existing protection, with implications for future conservation.

Mar Ecol Prog Ser 580:1-16. DOI: 10.3354/meps12306



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