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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 634:115-125 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13173

Multi-year patterns in scarring, survival and residency of whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia

Emily Lester1,2,*, Mark G. Meekan1, Peter Barnes3, Holly Raudino4, Dani Rob3, Kelly Waples4, Conrad W. Speed1

1Australian Institute of Marine Science, Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
2School of Biological Sciences, Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
3Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Exmouth District, Parks and Wildlife Service, Exmouth, Western Australia 6707, Australia
4Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Marine Science Program, Perth, Western Australia 6151, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Documentation of scarring patterns on marine megafauna provides a means of quantifying the risk of anthropogenic threats that occur in the open ocean, such as ship strike. This study investigated the rates and putative sources of scarring of whale sharks Rhincodon typus aggregating at Ningaloo, Western Australia. Identification photos of whale sharks were contributed by tourism operators and research groups over a 6 yr period. Analysis of this database found that 355 (38.8%) of 913 whale sharks individually identified between 2008 and 2013 exhibited some form of scarring. This decreased to 15.9% after the omission of categories of minor scarring (nicks and abrasions). An increase in the number of sharks with lacerations between 2008 and 2013 provides some evidence of increasing boat strikes over this time. However, capture-mark-recapture modelling using the multi-state open robust design found no evidence that major scarring influenced the apparent survival or residency time of whale sharks aggregating at Ningaloo. Although lacerations are a useful indication of the level of threat to whale sharks from boat strike, it cannot necessarily be attributed to boat activity in Ningaloo due to the migratory nature of whale sharks in this aggregation, which commonly venture beyond Australian waters. Close collaboration with whale shark tourism operators proved a vital tool to generate the volume of data required for this assessment, and provides a model for similar studies of other megafauna with an associated tourism industry.


KEY WORDS: Mark-recapture · Ship strike · Predation · Photo-identification


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Cite this article as: Lester E, Meekan MG, Barnes P, Raudino H, Rob D, Waples K, Speed CW (2020) Multi-year patterns in scarring, survival and residency of whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 634:115-125. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13173

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