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Turbulent mixing and mesoscale distributions of late-stage fish larvae on the NW Shelf of Western Australia

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Light traps were deployed to describe vertical and cross-shelf distributions of late-stage larval fishes during five cruises in each of the 1997/98 and 1998/99 summers in the region of the Gulf of Exmouth on the southern North West Shelf of Western Australia. At each light trap station on a cross-shelf transect we measured water temperature, salinity and chlorophyll a and used vertical plankton tows to estimate zooplankton biomass and copepod abundance. Current meters were deployed on moorings near the transect and the data used to model flows and mixing on the NW Shelf and in the Gulf. The majority of reef, pelagic and baitfish larvae (81, 83 and 66% respectively) were collected at only two stations that marked the boundary between stratified waters offshore and well-mixed water within the Gulf. Most baitfishes (primarily Spratelloides spp.) were captured by traps deployed near the seabed, while reef fishes (mostly pomacentrids, lethrinids and siganids) and pelagic species (mostly scombrids and carangids) were captured in traps deployed near surface. Catch composition varied between summers with 64% of baitfishes collected in the first summer, while the majority of reef and pelagic fishes (81 and 80% respectively) were captured in the second summer. Modelling of circulation showed that the velocity of tidal currents was enhanced by constriction of flow between NW Cape and South Muiron Island and by shallowing of the shelf. Flood-tide intrusions of water allowed the thermocline to move up the continental shelf, upwelling cool nutrient-rich water that was then mixed throughout the entire water column at stations in the mouth of the Gulf. This upwelling and mixing resulted in higher chlorophyll a concentrations and copepod abundances either as a result of local in situ growth or advection/aggregation processes, and may account for the great abundances of late-stage fish larvae in the mouth of the Gulf.

Keywords: cross shelf; distribution; fish larvae; horizontal; internal wave; light trap; turbulent mixing; upwelling; vertical

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3, Townsville MC QLD 4810, Australia 2: School of Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville Qld 4811, Australia

Publication date: January 1, 2006


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