Tiger sharks can connect equatorial habitats and fisheries across the Atlantic Ocean basin

Published on 19. September 2017

Tiger sharks can connect equatorial habitats and fisheries across the Atlantic Ocean basin

André S. Afonso, Ricardo Garla, Fábio H. V. Hazin


Increasing our knowledge about the spatial ecology of apex predators and their interactions with diverse habitats and fisheries is necessary for understanding the trophic mechanisms that underlie several aspects of marine ecosystem dynamics and for guiding informed management policies. A preliminary assessment of tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) population structure off the oceanic insular system of Fernando de Noronha (FEN) and the large-scale movements performed by this species in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean was conducted using longline and handline fishing gear and satellite telemetry. A total of 25 sharks measuring 175–372 cm in total length (TL) were sampled. Most sharks were likely immature females ranging between 200 and 260 cm TL, with few individuals < 200 cm TL being caught. This contrasts greatly with the tiger shark size-distribution previously reported for coastal waters off the Brazilian mainland, where most individuals measured < 200 cm TL. Also, the movements of 8 individuals measuring 202–310 cm TL were assessed with satellite transmitters for a combined total of 757 days (mean = 94.6 days∙shark-1; SD = 65.6). These sharks exhibited a considerable variability in their horizontal movements, with three sharks showing a mostly resident behavior around FEN during the extent of the respective tracks, two sharks traveling west to the South American continent, and two sharks moving mostly along the middle of the oceanic basin, one of which ending up in the northern hemisphere. Moreover, one shark traveled east to the African continent, where it was eventually caught by fishers from Ivory Coast in less than 474 days at liberty. The present results suggest that young tiger sharks measuring < 200 cm TL make little use of insular oceanic habitats from the western South Atlantic Ocean, which agrees with a previously-hypothesized ontogenetic habitat shift from coastal to oceanic habitats experienced by juveniles of this species in this region. In addition, this study adds evidence that tiger sharks are able to connect marine trophic webs from the neritic provinces of the eastern and western margins of the Atlantic Ocean across the equatorial basin and that they may experience mortality induced by remote fisheries. All this information is extremely relevant for understanding the energetic balance of marine ecosystems as much as the exposure of this species to fishing pressure in this yet poorly-known region.

PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184763, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184763



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