Seasonal movements and behaviour of basking sharks from archival tagging: No evidence of winter hibernation
Sims, D.W. and Southall, E.J. and Richardson, A.J. and Reid, P.C. and Metcalfe, J.D. (2003) Seasonal movements and behaviour of basking sharks from archival tagging: No evidence of winter hibernation. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 248. pp. 187-196. ISSN 0171-8630
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Habitat selection processes in highly migratory animals such as sharks and whales are important to understand because they influence patterns of distribution, availability and therefore catch rates. However, spatial strategies remain poorly understood over seasonal scales in most species, including, most notably, the plankton-feeding basking shark Cetorhinus maximus. It was proposed nearly 50 yr ago that this globally distributed species migrates from coastal summer-feeding areas of the northeast Atlantic to hibernate during winter in deep water on the bottom of continental-shelf slopes. This view has perpetuated in the literature even though the 'hibernation theory' has not been tested directly. We have now tracked basking sharks for the first time over seasonal scales (1.7 to 6.5 mo) using 'pop-up' satellite archival transmitters. We show that they do not hibernate during winter but instead undertake extensive horizontal (up to 3400 km) and vertical (> 750 m depth) movements to utilise productive continental-shelf and shelf-edge habitats during summer, autumn and winter. They travel long distances (390 to 460 km) to locate temporally discrete productivity 'hotspots' at shelf-break fronts, but at no time were prolonged movements into open-ocean regions away from shelf waters observed. Basking sharks have a very broad vertical diving range and can dive beyond the known range of planktivorous whales. Our study suggests this species can exploit shelf and slope-associated zooplankton communities in mesopelagic (200 to 1000 m) as well as epipelagic habitat (0 to 200 m).
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