The effects of cage-diving activities on the fine-scale swimming behaviour and space use of white sharks

Journal of Marine Biology 06/2013; DOI: 10.1007/s00227-013-2277-6

ABSTRACT Wildlife tourism has become increasingly popular and is one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry. A radio-acoustic positioning system was deployed to monitor the fine-scale movements of 21 white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and investigate the effects of shark cage-diving activities on their swimming behaviour and space use. This study contributes towards improving our understanding of the complex relationship between wildlife tourism and its effects on sharks, and assesses how tourism targeting sharks affects behaviour at a finer spatial scale than previously investigated. Our study demonstrated that shark cage-diving operators (SCDO) influenced the fine-scale three-dimensional spatial distribution and the rate of movement of white sharks at the Neptune Islands. White sharks stayed more than 30 m away from the SCDO on 21 % of the days detected, but spent a significant amount of time in close proximity to the SCDO on the remaining days. Individual variation was detected, with some sharks behaviourally responding to SCDO more than others. The degree of variation between individual sharks and the different levels of interaction (e.g. presence, proximity to SCDO, and consumption of tethered bait) highlights the complexity of the relationships between SCDO and the effects on sharks. To improve our understanding of these relationships, future monitoring of shark cage-diving operations requires proximity to SCDO to be recorded in addition to the presence within the area. Further work is needed to assess whether the observed behavioural changes would affect individual fitness and ultimately population viability, which are critical information to unambiguously assess the potential impacts of wildlife tourism targeting sharks.

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May 28, 2014