MEPS 248:187-196 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps248187

Seasonal movements and behaviour of basking sharks from archival tagging: no evidence of winter hibernation

David W. Sims1,*, Emily J. Southall1, Anthony J. Richardson2, Philip C. Reid2, Julian D. Metcalfe3

1Marine Biological Association, and
2Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, United Kingdom
3Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: Habitat selection processes in highly migratory animals such as sharks and whales are important to understand because they influence patterns of distribution, availability and therefore catch rates. However, spatial strategies remain poorly understood over seasonal scales in most species, including, most notably, the plankton-feeding basking shark Cetorhinus maximus. It was proposed nearly 50 yr ago that this globally distributed species migrates from coastal summer-feeding areas of the northeast Atlantic to hibernate during winter in deep water on the bottom of continental-shelf slopes. This view has perpetuated in the literature even though the Œhibernation theory¹ has not been tested directly. We have now tracked basking sharks for the first time over seasonal scales (1.7 to 6.5 mo) using Œpop-up¹ satellite archival transmitters. We show that they do not hibernate during winter but instead undertake extensive horizontal (up to 3400 km) and vertical (>750 m depth) movements to utilise productive continental-shelf and shelf-edge habitats during summer, autumn and winter. They travel long distances (390 to 460 km) to locate temporally discrete productivity Œhotspots¹ at shelf-break fronts, but at no time were prolonged movements into open-ocean regions away from shelf waters observed. Basking sharks have a very broad vertical diving range and can dive beyond the known range of planktivorous whales. Our study suggests this species can exploit shelf and slope-associated zooplankton communities in mesopelagic (200 to 1000 m) as well as epipelagic habitat (0 to 200 m).

KEY WORDS: Shark · Strategy · Satellite archival telemetry · Oceanographic fronts

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