Integrating archival tag data and a high-resolution oceanographic model to estimate basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) movements in the western Atlantic
Braun, Camrin D.
Skomal, Gregory B.
Thorrold, Simon R.
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KeywordMovement ecology; Satellite archival telemetry; Migration; Mesopelagic; Oceanographic modeling; Site fidelity
Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) populations are considered “vulnerable” globally and “endangered” in the northeast Atlantic by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Much of our knowledge of this species comes from surface observations in coastal waters, yet recent evidence suggests the majority of their lives may be spent in the deep ocean. Depth preferences of basking sharks have significantly limited movement studies that used pop-up satellite archival transmitting (PSAT) tags as conventional light-based geolocation is impossible for tagged animals that spend significant time below the photic zone. We tagged 57 basking sharks with PSAT tags in the NW Atlantic from 2004 to 2011. Many individuals spent several months at meso- and bathy-pelagic depths where accurate light-level geolocation was impossible during fall, winter and spring. We applied a newly-developed geolocation approach for the PSAT data by comparing three-dimensional depth-temperature profile data recorded by the tags to modeled in situ oceanographic data from the high-resolution HYbrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM). Observation-based likelihoods were leveraged within a state-space hidden Markov model (HMM). The combined tracks revealed that basking sharks moved from waters around Cape Cod, MA to as far as the SE coast of Brazil (20°S), a total distance of over 17,000 km. Moreover, 59% of tagged individuals with sufficient deployment durations (>250 days) demonstrated seasonal fidelity to Cape Cod and the Gulf of Maine, with one individual returning to within 60 km of its tagging location 1 year later. Tagged sharks spent most of their time at epipelagic depths during summer months around Cape Cod and in the Gulf of Maine. During winter months, sharks spent extended periods at depths of at least 600 m while moving south to the Sargasso Sea, the Caribbean Sea, or the western tropical Atlantic. Our work demonstrates the utility of applying advances in oceanographic modeling to understanding habitat use of highly migratory, often meso- and bathy-pelagic, ocean megafauna. The large-scale movement patterns of tagged sharks highlight the need for international cooperation when designing and implementing conservation strategies to ensure that the species recovers from the historical effects of over-fishing throughout the North Atlantic Ocean.
© The Author(s), 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Frontiers in Marine Science 5 (2018): 25, doi:10.3389/fmars.2018.00025.
Suggested CitationFrontiers in Marine Science 5 (2018): 25
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