Movement patterns and habitat use of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) across ontogeny in the Gulf of Mexico
Driggers III, W.B.
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The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is globally distributed with established coastal and open-ocean movement patterns in many portions of its range. While all life stages of tiger sharks are known to occur in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), variability in habitat use and movement patterns over ontogeny have never been quantified in this large marine ecosystem. To address this data gap we fitted 56 tiger sharks with Smart Position and Temperature transmitting tags between 2010 and 2018 and examined seasonal and spatial distribution patterns across the GoM. Additionally, we analyzed overlap of core habitats (i.e., 50% kernel density estimates) among individuals relative to large benthic features (oil and gas platforms, natural banks, bathymetric breaks). Our analyses revealed significant ontogenetic and seasonal differences in distribution patterns as well as across-shelf (i.e., regional) and sex-linked variability in movement rates. Presumably sub-adult and adult sharks achieved significantly higher movement rates and used off-shelf deeper habitats at greater proportions than juvenile sharks, particularly during the fall and winter seasons. Further, female maximum rate of movement was higher than males when accounting for size. Additionally, we found evidence of core regions encompassing the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration designated Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (i.e., shelf-edge banks) during cooler months, particularly by females, as well as 2,504 oil and gas platforms. These data provide a baseline for future assessments of environmental impacts, such as climate variability or oil spills, on tiger shark movements and distribution in the region. Future research may benefit from combining alternative tracking tools, such as acoustic telemetry and genetic approaches, which can facilitate long-term assessment of the species’ movement dynamics and better elucidate the ecological significance of the core habitats identified here.