ESR 27:69-85 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00652

Behaviour of aggregated grey nurse sharks Carcharias taurus off eastern Australia: similarities and differences among life-history stages and sites

Kirby R. Smith1,*, Carol Scarpaci1, Brett M. Louden2, Nicholas M. Otway2

1College of Engineering and Science, Victoria University, PO Box 14428, Melbourne, Victoria 8001, Australia
2Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Locked Bag 1, Nelson Bay, New South Wales 2315, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Stereo-video photogrammetry was used to document swimming and non-swimming behaviours of various life-history stages of the grey nurse shark Carcharias taurus at 8 east Australian aggregation sites (during daylight) in the absence of scuba diving tourism and fishers. Swimming behaviours included hovering, milling, and active swimming with significantly greater milling. Rates of movement were least during milling and greatest for active swimming. Pectoral fins were held 20 to 24° below horizontal, which was consistent with holding positions reported in shark swimming studies. Significantly lower caudal fin positions during hovering probably minimised forward propulsion. Tail-beat frequency decreased significantly with increasing total length and was likely due to greater propulsion from larger caudal fins. Low activity indicated that sharks minimised energy expenditure when aggregated, which was associated with migratory and reproductive behaviours. Significantly different pectoral fin positions among sites likely resulted from differing navigational requirements. Non-swimming behaviours were infrequent. Chafing, gill puff, head snapping and palatoquadrate protrusion were generally categorised as grooming behaviour. One gill puff sequence and all but one rapid withdrawal event were categorised as ‘flight’-response agonistic behaviour. The remaining rapid withdrawal and stand back were to avoid collision and categorised as swimming behaviour. The absence of ‘fight’-response agonistic behaviour was consistent with previous descriptions of the species as docile. This partial ethogram will enhance ecological understanding, assist assessment and management of diving tourism, and contribute to the recovery and long-term conservation of this critically endangered species.


KEY WORDS: Shark · Carcharias taurus · Critically endangered · Ethogram · Stereo photogrammetry · Fin angles · Tail beats · Rates of movement


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Cite this article as: Smith KR, Scarpaci C, Louden BM, Otway NM (2015) Behaviour of aggregated grey nurse sharks Carcharias taurus off eastern Australia: similarities and differences among life-history stages and sites. Endang Species Res 27:69-85. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00652

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