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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 337:287-297 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps337287

Shark nursery areas: concepts, definition, characterization and assumptions

Michelle R. Heupel1,*, John K. Carlson2, Colin A. Simpfendorfer3

1Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, Florida 34236, USA
2NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 3500 Delwood Beach Road, Panama City, Florida 32408, USA
3School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Queensland 4811, Australia

ABSTRACT: The concept of elasmobranch species using nursery areas was introduced in the early 1900s and has been an accepted aspect of shark biology and behavior for several decades. Despite several descriptions of how shark species use nursery areas and what types of regions nurseries may be found in, no explicit definition of what constitutes a shark nursery area has been presented. Here we evaluate the assumptions of the current shark nursery paradigm in light of available data. Based on examination of these assumptions and available methods of quantifying and accurately describing shark nursery areas, a new more quantitative definition of shark nursery areas is proposed. This definition requires 3 criteria to be met for an area to be identified as a nursery: (1) sharks are more commonly encountered in the area than other areas; (2) sharks have a tendency to remain or return for extended periods; and (3) the area or habitat is repeatedly used across years. These criteria make the definition of shark nursery areas more compatible with those for other aquatic species. The improved definition of this concept will provide more valuable information for fisheries managers and shark biologists.

KEY WORDS: Nursery area · Shark · Habitat · Definition

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