Seasonal changes in movements and habitat preferences of the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) while refuging near an oceanic island

James T. Ketchum, Alex Hearn, A. Peter Klimley, Eduardo Espinoza, César Peñaherrera and John L. Largier.


Marine Biology, 2014, 161(4): 755–767.






Movements and habitat preferences of sharks relative to a central location are widely documented for many species; however, the reasons for such behaviors are currently unknown. Do movements vary spatially or temporally or between individuals? Do sharks have seasonal habitat and environmental preferences or simply perform movements at random at any time of the year? To help understand requirements for the designation of critical habitats for an endangered top predator and to develop zoning and management plans for key habitats, we examined vertical and horizontal movements, and determined habitat and environmental preferences of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini). We tracked seven hammerheads for 19–96 h at Wolf Island (1.38ºN, 91.82ºW) between 2007 and 2009 using ultrasonic transmitters with depth and temperature sensors, and we profiled temperature through the water column. Movements of individual hammerheads fell in two classes: constrained (remaining near the island) and dispersive (moving offshore to pelagic environments). The central activity space or kernel off the southeast side of Wolf Island was small and common to most, but the area varied among individuals (mean ± SE 0.25 ± 0.2 km2), not exceeding 0.6 km2 for any of the sharks, and not changing significantly between seasons. In general, hammerheads showed preference for the upcurrent habitat on the eastern side of Wolf Island in both the warm and cold seasons. However, the depth of sharks varied with season, apparently in response to seasonal changes in the vertical structure of temperature. Hammerheads performed frequent vertical excursions above the thermocline during offshore movements and, in general, were observed to prefer temperatures of 23–26 °C found above the thermocline. At times, though individuals moved into the thermocline and made brief dives below it. Our results provided evidence that hammerheads (1) are highly selective of location (i.e., habitat on up-current side of island) and depth (i.e., top of the thermocline) while refuging, where they may carry out essential activities such as cleaning and thermoregulation, and (2) perform exploratory vertical movements by diving the width of the mixed layer and occasionally diving below the thermocline while moving offshore, most likely for foraging.




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