Resolving the geographic extent and timing of coastal shark migrations, as well as their environmental cues, is essential for refining shark management strategies in anticipation of increasing anthropogenic stressors to coastal ecosystems. We employed a regional-scale passive acoustic telemetry array encompassing 300 km of the east Florida coast to assess what factors influence site fidelity of juvenile lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) to an exposed coastal nursery at Cape Canaveral, and to document the timing and rate of their seasonal migrations. Movements of 54 juvenile lemon sharks were monitored for three years with individuals tracked for up to 751 days. While most sharks demonstrated site fidelity to the Cape Canaveral region December through February under typical winter water temperatures, historically extreme declines in ocean temperature were accompanied by rapid and often temporary, southward displacements of up to 190 km along the Florida east coast. From late February through April each year, most sharks initiated a northward migration at speeds of up to 64 km day-1 with several individuals then detected in compatible estuarine telemetry arrays in Georgia and South Carolina up to 472 km from release locations. Nineteen sharks returned for a second or even third consecutive winter, thus demonstrating strong seasonal philopatry to the Cape Canaveral region. The long distance movements and habitat associations of immature lemon sharks along the US southeast coast contrast sharply with the natal site fidelity observed in this species at other sites in the western Atlantic Ocean. These findings validate the existing multi-state management strategies now in place. Results also affirm the value of collaborative passive arrays for resolving seasonal movements and habitat preferences of migratory coastal shark species not easily studied with other tagging techniques.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)