First characterization of shark nursery habitat in the United States Virgin Islands: Evidence of habitat partitioning by two shark species

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Little is known of the diversity, demography, and essential fish habitat of sharks within the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) marine ecosystem. To examine species diversity and the relative abundance of elasmobranchs in this region, bottom-longline and hand-gear sampling was conducted in Fish Bay, St. John, USVI, from June 2004 to December 2005. In the 8 sampling trips during this period, 54 standardized longline sets caught 174 elasmobranchs comprising 5 species of sharks and 1 batoid. Overall catch per unit effort [In(CPUE + 1) ± SE] was 1.83 ± 0.16 elasmobranchs 100 hooks-1 h -1. Lemon sharks Negaprion brevirostris had the highest relative abundance based on log-transformed CPUE data (0.98 ± 0.15), followed by blacktip sharks Carcharhinus limbatus (0.91 ± 0.18), southern stingrays Dasyatis americana (0.28 ± 0.08), nurse sharks Ginglymostoma cirratum (0.08 ± 0.05), blacknose sharks Carcharhinus acronotus (0.06 ± 0.04) and the Caribbean sharpnose Rhizoprionodon porosus (0.03 ± 0.03). The relative abundance of all species was significantly higher in the summer (2.6 ± 0.2) than during the winter (1.1 ± 0.2). For the blacktip (N = 89 captures of 74 individuals) and lemon (N = 66, 48 individuals) sharks, which comprised the bulk of the catch, mean fork length (± SE) was 51.9 ± 0.63 cm and 59.9 ± 1.2 cm, respectively, representing primarily neonatal and young-of-the-year life stages. The recapture rates for blacktip and lemon sharks were 21% and 29%, respectively, and nearly all recaptures occurred within the bay, indicating a high degree of site fidelity. Capture information and limited acoustic tracking provided evidence of spatial and temporal habitat partitioning by these 2 shark species within the bay. Although the CPUE of both species was highest over shallow (<1 m) seagrass substrate, lemon sharks were found and tracked exclusively on shallow, mangrove-fringed seagrass habitat, while blacktip sharks utilized a wider area of the bay. Fish Bay was determined to provide important nursery habitat for young juvenile lemon and blacktip sharks in the USVI. © Inter-Research 2008.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Marine Ecology Progress Series