Triennial migration and philopatry in the critically endangered soupfin shark

Published on
02. March 2021

Triennial migration and philopatry in the critically endangered soupfin shark Galeorhinus galeus

Andrew P. Nosal, Daniel P. Cartamil, Arnold J. Ammann, Lyall F. Bellquist, Noah J. Ben‐Aderet, Kayla M. Blincow, Echelle S. Burns, Eric D. Chapman, Ryan M. Freedman, A. Peter Klimley, Ryan K. Logan, Christopher G. Lowe, Brice X. Semmens, Connor F. White, Philip A. Hastings


  1. Globally, one quarter of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction due to overfishing. Effective conservation and management can facilitate population recoveries. However, these efforts depend on robust data on movement patterns and stock structure, which are lacking for many threatened species, including the Critically Endangered soupfin shark Galeorhinus galeus, a circumglobal coastal‐pelagic species.
  2. Using passive acoustic telemetry, we continuously tracked 34 mature female soupfin sharks, surgically implanted with coded acoustic transmitters, for 7 years via 337 underwater acoustic receivers stationed along the west coast of North America. These sharks and an additional six were also externally fitted with spaghetti identification tags. Our tagging site was a shallow rocky reef off La Jolla (San Diego County), California, USA, where adult females were observed to aggregate every summer.
  3. Tagged soupfin sharks were highly migratory along the west coast of North America, between Washington, USA and Baja California Sur, Mexico. However, every 3 years, they returned to waters off La Jolla, California, where they underwent gestation. This is the first conclusive evidence of triennial migration and philopatry (‘home‐loving’) in any animal, which is apparently driven by this species’ unusual triennial reproductive cycle. Females of other shark and ray species with triennial reproductive cycles are also likely to exhibit triennial cycles of migration and philopatry.
  4. At least six (15%) of our tagged soupfin sharks were killed in commercial gillnets in Mexico.
  5. Policy implications. Identifying multiennial migratory cycles in mature female sharks can reveal hidden stock structure in the form of discrete breeding cohorts, which are spatially and temporally segregated as they cycle through different reproductive phases. Accounting for this complexity may improve the performance of spatially structured stock assessment models, particularly when fishery removals are spatially heterogeneous, as well as inform the spatiotemporal design of fishery‐independent surveys. In the United States, the soupfin shark is neither actively managed nor recognized as a Highly Migratory Species; however, given the highly migratory behaviour we report, this designation should be revisited by the US Pacific Fishery Management Council. Finally, given the extensive fishery removals in Mexico, any future management must be internationally cooperative.

Journal of Applied Ecology, Early View, DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13848


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