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Two-year migration of adult female white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) reveals widely separated nursery areas and conservation concerns

Michael L Domeier* and Nicole Nasby-Lucas

Author Affiliations

Marine Conservation Science Institute, 2809 South Mission Road, Suite G, Fallbrook, CA 92028, USA

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Animal Biotelemetry 2013, 1:2  doi:10.1186/2050-3385-1-2

Published: 4 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Satellite tagging programs have provided detailed information about the migratory patterns of northeastern Pacific white sharks, revealing a seasonal migration between a vast offshore region and coastal aggregation sites. Although adult males undergo annual round-trip migrations, photo-identification programs have noted that sexually mature females may only visit coastal aggregation sites once every 2 years, a behavior that is presumably linked to an estimated 18-month gestation period. The whereabouts of females during their full 2-year migration were previously unknown, because of the limited battery capacity of satellite pop-up tags.

Results

Through the use of satellite-linked radio-telemetry tags with multi-year tracking capability, we describe the 2-year migratory pattern for four mature female white sharks tagged at Guadalupe Island, Mexico. The 2-year migration comprised four phases: 1) an Offshore Gestation Phase (which had an average duration of 15.5 months; 2) a Pupping Phase, which occurred along the Mexican coast between the months of April and August; 3) a Pre-Aggregation Phase (when the females were in transition between the Pupping Phase and Guadalupe Island; and 4) the Guadalupe Island Aggregation Phase, which began when the mature females arrived at Guadalupe Island between late September and early October.

Conclusions

Long-term satellite tracking of mature female white sharks highlighted the connectivity between a single presumed mating site at Guadalupe Island, and two widely separated pupping sites along the Mexican coast. The Offshore Gestation Phase provided evidence that the females remained offshore for up to 16 months during their 2-year migration cycle. The Pupping Phase along the Mexican coast coincided with the seasonal presence of young-of-the-year white sharks along the coast of North America, and with a presumed gestation period of 18 months, this placed mating between October and January, during the period when white sharks are known to be at Guadalupe Island. Tracking data during the time sharks were offshore showed that mature males and females are spatially segregated, except for their concurrent seasonal presence at Guadalupe Island. These discoveries provide important new details about the complete life history of northeastern Pacific white sharks while identifying crucial regions in which young-of-the-year, juveniles and adult females are most vulnerable.

Keywords:
White shark; Mating; Pupping; Migration; Baja; Mexico; Pacific; Gestation