Date of Original Version
Background: Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are among the most abundant and widely distributed of oceanic elasmobranchs. Millions are taken annually in pelagic longline fisheries and comprise the highest component of auctioned fin weight in the international shark fin trade. Though studies of blue sharks outnumber those of other large pelagic sharks, the species’ complicated and sexually segregated life history still confound current understanding of Atlantic movement patterns. Lack of detailed information regarding movement and vertical behavior continues to limit management efforts that require such data for stock assessment and sustainable catch modeling. Therefore, this study aims to describe behavioral and ecological patterns distinct to aggregating and migrating blue sharks, and compare the findings to existing Atlantic movement models.
Results: Data collected from 23 blue sharks instrumented with pop-up satellite archival tags were used in statistical predictive regression models to investigate habitat use during a localized aggregation in the northwest Atlantic, while undergoing seasonal migrations, and with respect to environmental variables. Deployment durations ranged from 4 to 273 days, with sharks inhabiting both productive coastal waters and the open ocean, and exhibiting long-distance seasonal movements exceeding 3700 km. While aggregating on the continental shelf of the northwest Atlantic, blue sharks displayed consistent depth use independent of sex and life stage, and exhibited varied response to environmental (temperature and chlorophyll a) factors. As sharks dispersed from the aggregation site, depth use was influenced by bathymetry, latitude, demography, and presence in the Gulf Stream. Mature females were not observed at the New England tagging site, however, two mature females with recent mating wounds were captured and tagged opportunistically in The Bahamas, one of which migrated to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Conclusions: Vertical behaviors displayed by blue sharks varied greatly among locales; depth use off the continental shelf was significantly greater, and individuals exhibited a greater frequency of deep-diving behavior, compared to periods of aggregation on the continental shelf. Sexual segregation was evident, suggesting mature and immature males, and immature females may be subjected to high levels of anthropogenic exploitation in this region during periods of aggregation. Analysis of the spatio-temporal tracks revealed that nine individuals traveled beyond the United States EEZ, including a mature female captured in The Bahamas that migrated to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. These results reflect and augment existing Atlantic migration models, and highlight the complex, synergistic nature of factors affecting blue shark ecology and the need for a cooperative management approach in the North Atlantic.
Howey, L. A., Wetherbee, B. M., Tolentino, E. R., & Shivji, M. S. (2017). Biogeophysical and physiological processes drive movement patterns in a marine predator. Movement Ecology, 5, 16. doi: 10.1186/s40462-017-0107-z
Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-017-0107-z
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