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Does the whale shark aggregate along the Western Australian coastline beyond Ningaloo Reef?

Norman, B.M., Reynolds, S. and Morgan, D.L. (2016) Does the whale shark aggregate along the Western Australian coastline beyond Ningaloo Reef? Pacific Conservation Biology, 22 (1). pp. 72-80.

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Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) seasonally aggregate at Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef in the austral autumn and winter, but their occurrence beyond this region during spring and summer remains elusive. The aggregation at Ningaloo Reef coincides with a pulse of productivity following mass coral spawning in early autumn, with the population during this period dominated by juveniles that amass for feeding purposes. To investigate their movement patterns beyond Ningaloo Reef, whale sharks were fitted with SPOT (n = 13) or SPLASH (n = 1) tags between April and September (2010–14). Tagged whale sharks ranged in total length from 3 to 9 m. Each whale shark was also photographed for its subsequent identification using Wildbook for Whale Sharks, and their years of residency at Ningaloo Reef determined. Temporal and spatial observations of whale shark sightings were also determined through the conducting of interviews with people throughout 14 coastal towns along the Western Australian coastline, as well as through historical sightings and the Wildbook database. Satellite tracking revealed that all sharks remained relatively close to the Western Australian coast, travelling a mean minimum distance of 1667 (±316, s.e.) km. Public reports, coupled with satellite tracking, demonstrated that whale sharks inhabit most of the Western Australian coast (from 35°S to 12°S), and that seasonal migrations beyond Ningaloo Reef may be to the north or south and may similarly be associated with areas of increased productivity.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research
Publisher: CSIRO
Copyright: © 2016 CSIRO
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