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Environmental variables affecting the sexual segregation of great white sharks Carcharodon carcharias at the Neptune Islands South Australia

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The seasonal temporal sexual segregation of white sharks Carcharodon carcharias, at the Neptune Islands, South Australia, is described in relation to environmental variables. A significant sexual segregation was found at this site with sex ratios strongly favouring males overall. Males were more prevalent than females in all months in a 3 year sampling period, aside from April and May. There was a significant difference between the sexes in terms of mean daily numbers over the months of the study. It was also observed that sexual segregation fluctuated for unknown reasons on a temporal scale. Predictive models for estimating male and female numbers based on a series of abiotic factors were generated. Sea surface temperature, tidal height, tidal range, moon phase, cloud cover, underwater visibility and swell height were related to daily sightings of male and female white sharks to determine the influence of these variables on sexual segregation. Visibility and sea surface temperature affected male numbers, however, visibility did not affect sexual segregation. Tidal height was significantly different between males and females. Sea surface temperature also appeared to be related to sexual segregation in this species. Females were present when temperatures ranged from 15·7 to 18·1° C whereas males were observed at temperatures ranging from 14·3 to 17·8° C, with a peak in sightings in September, when sea surface temperatures were at their lowest. Since parturition is thought to occur in spring or summer, it is suggested that females are absent at this time and only return during prime feeding periods or times at which temperatures are elevated in order to increase developmental growth rates of their young. The significantly lower temperatures in 2003 may explain the absence of females in this year. Hypotheses related to temperature regulation in this species are put forward to explain the sexual segregation observed.
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Keywords: abiotic; shark; temperature; tidal

Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: 01 May 2007

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