Depth and movement behaviour of the Pacific sleeper shark in the north-east Pacific Ocean
Satellite-linked radio telemetry was used to study the geographic movements and vertical movement behaviour of the Pacific sleeper shark Somniosus pacificus. The fish were tagged near Steller sea lion Eumetopias jubatus rookeries in the Gulf of Alaska during periods when Steller sea lions pups were most vulnerable to predation; when Steller sea lion pups first enter the water (July to August) and when Steller sea lion pups are weaned (April to May). Final locations recovered from most Pacific sleeper sharks (76%) were within 100 km of release locations, 16% were within 100–250 km and 8% were within 250–500 km. The most striking behavioural feature was their extensive, nearly continuous vertical movements. Median daily depth range was 184 m; the most time (61%) was spent between 150 and 450 m, but ascents above 100 m were common (58% of days). Median vertical movement rate was 6 km day−1 and steady. The longest period of continuous vertical movement (> 60 m h−1) was 330 h. Systematic vertical oscillations were most common (60%), followed by diel vertical migrations (25%) and irregular vertical movements (15%). The Pacific sleeper sharks travelled below the photic zone during the day and approached the surface at night. Pacific sleeper sharks appear to employ a stealth and ambush hunting strategy that incorporates slow vertical oscillations to search for prey, and cryptic colouration and cover of darkness to avoid detection by potential prey. The depth and geographic range of Pacific sleeper shark and Steller sea lions overlap near four important Steller sea lion rookeries in the northern Gulf of Alaska, so the potential exists for predation to occur. None of the tissues in the stomachs of the 198 Pacific sleeper sharks collected during a companion diet study, however, were identified as Steller sea lion.
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