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White shark research

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Project log

Georgia C.A. Jones
added a research item
White sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, are often described as elusive, with little information available due to the logistical difficulties of studying large marine predators that make long-distance migrations across ocean basins. Increased understanding of aggregation patterns, combined with recent advances in technology have, however, facilitated a new breadth of studies revealing fresh insights into the biology and ecology of white sharks. Although we may no longer be able to refer to the white shark as a little-known, elusive species, there remain numerous key questions that warrant investigation and research focus. Although white sharks have separate populations, they seemingly share similar biological and ecological traits across their global distribution. Yet, white shark's behavior and migratory patterns can widely differ, which makes formalizing similarities across its distribution challenging. Prioritization of research questions is important to maximize limited resources because white sharks are naturally low in abundance and play important regulatory roles in the ecosystem. Here, we consulted 43 white shark experts to identify these issues. The questions listed and developed here provide a global road map for future research on white sharks to advance progress toward key goals that are informed by the needs of the research community and resource managers.
Georgia C.A. Jones
added a research item
Demographic differences in resource use are key components of population and species ecology across the animal kingdom. White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are migratory, apex predators, which have undergone significant population declines across their range. Understanding their ecology is key to ensuring that management strategies are effective. Here, we carry out the first stable isotope analyses of free-swimming white sharks in South Africa. Biopsies were collected in Gansbaai (34.5805°S, 19.3518°E) between February and July 2015. We used Stable Isotope Bayesian Ellipsis in R and traditional statistical analyses to quantify and compare isotopic niches of male and female sharks of two size classes, and analyse relationships between isotopic values and shark length. Our results reveal cryptic trophic differences between the sexes and life stages. Males, but not females, were inferred to feed in more offshore or westerly habitats as they grow larger, and only males exhibited evidence of an ontogenetic niche shift. Lack of relationship between δ13C, δ15N and female shark length may be caused by females exhibiting multiple migration and foraging strategies, and a greater propensity to travel further north. Sharks < 3 m had much wider, and more diverse niches than sharks > 3 m, drivers of which may include individual dietary specialisation and temporal factors. The differences in migratory and foraging behaviour between sexes, life stages, and individuals will affect their exposure to anthropogenic threats, and should be considered in management strategies.
Georgia C.A. Jones
added a research item
Results from this study of the white shark Carcharodon carcharias include measurements obtained using a novel photographic method that reveal significant differences between the sexes in the relationship between tooth cuspidity and shark total length, and a novel ontogenetic change in male tooth shape. Males exhibit broader upper first teeth and increased distal inclination of upper third teeth with increasing length, while females do not present a consistent morphological change. Substantial individual variation, with implications for pace of life syndrome, was present in males and tooth polymorphism was suggested in females. Sexual differences and individual variation may play major roles in ontogenetic changes in tooth morphology in C. carcharias, with potential implications for their foraging biology. Such individual and sexual differences should be included in studies of ontogenetic shift dynamics in other species and systems.