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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 414:257-266 (2010)  -  DOI:

Behavioural response of sicklefin lemon sharks Negaprion acutidens to underwater feeding for ecotourism purposes

Eric Clua1,2,*, Nicolas Buray3, Pierre Legendre4, Johann Mourier3, Serge Planes

1Secretariat of the Pacific Community, BPD5, 98848 Noumea, New Caledonia
2Ministère de l’Agriculture et de la Pêche, 251 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris 15, France
3Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE – USR 3278 EPHE CNRS), BP 1013, 98729 Moorea, French Polynesia
4Département de sciences biologiques, Université de Montréal, CP 6128, succursale Centreville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3J7, Canada

ABSTRACT: The feeding of marine predators is a popular means by which tourists and tour operators can facilitate close observation and interaction with wildlife. Shark-feeding has become the most developed provisioning activity around the world, despite its controversial nature. Amongst other detrimental effects, the long-term aggregation of sharks can modify the natural behaviour of the animals, potentially increase their aggression toward humans, and favour inbreeding. During 949 diving surveys conducted over 44 mo, we investigated the ecology and residence patterns of 36 photo-identified adult sicklefin lemon sharks Negaprion acutidens. The group contained 20 females and 16 males. From this long-term survey, we identified 5 different behavioural groups that we described as ‘new sharks’ (7), ‘missing sharks’ (4), ‘resident sharks’ (13), ‘unpredictable sharks’ (5) and ‘ghost sharks’ (7). In spite of movements in and out of the area by some males and females, which were probably related to mating, the general trend was that residency significantly increased during the study, particularly in males, showing a risk of inbreeding due to the reduction of shark mobility. Intra- and interspecific aggression was also witnessed, leading to an increased risk of potentially severe bites to humans. Our findings suggest the need for a revision of the legal framework of the provisioning activity in French Polynesia, which could include a yearly closure period to decrease shark behavioural modifications due to long-term shark-feeding activities.

KEY WORDS: Shark-feeding · Provisioning · Human disturbance · Behaviour · Site residence

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Cite this article as: Clua E, Buray N, Legendre P, Mourier J, Planes S (2010) Behavioural response of sicklefin lemon sharks Negaprion acutidens to underwater feeding for ecotourism purposes. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 414:257-266.

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