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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 691:1-17 (2022)  -  DOI:

Urban sharks: residency patterns of marine top predators in relation to a coastal metropolis

Neil Hammerschlag1,*, Lee F. G. Gutowsky2, Mitchell J. Rider1, Robert Roemer1,4, Austin J. Gallagher3

1Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, FL 33149, USA
2Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate Program, Trent University, Peterborough, ON K9L 0G2, Canada
3Beneath the Waves, Inc., Herndon, VA 20172, USA
4Present address: OCEARCH, Park City, UT 84068, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding and ultimately predicting how marine organisms will respond to urbanization is central for effective wildlife conservation and management in the Anthropocene. Sharks are upper trophic level predators in virtually all marine environments, but if and how their behaviors are influenced by coastal urbanization remains understudied. Here, we examined space use and residency patterns of 14 great hammerheads Sphyrna mokarran, 13 bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas, and 25 nurse sharks Ginglymostoma cirratum in proximity to the coastal metropolis of Miami, Florida, using passive acoustic telemetry. Based on the terrestrial urban carnivore literature, we predicted sharks would exhibit avoidance behaviors of areas close to Miami, with residency patterns in these urban areas increasing during periods of lower human activity, such as during nocturnal hours and weekdays, and that dietary specialists (great hammerhead) would exhibit comparatively lower affinity towards highly urbanized areas relative to dietary generalists (bull and nurse shark). However, we did not find empirical support for these predictions. Space use patterns of tracked sharks were consistent with that of ‘urban adapters’ (species that exhibit partial use of urban areas). Modeling also revealed that an unmeasured spatial variable was driving considerable shark residency in areas exposed to high urbanization. We propose several hypotheses that could explain our findings, including food provisioning from shore-based activities that could be attracting sharks to urban areas. Ultimately, the lack of avoidance of urban areas by sharks documented here, as compared to terrestrial carnivores, should motivate future research in the growing field of urban ecology.

KEY WORDS: Urban ecology · Elasmobranch · Acoustic telemetry · Movement ecology · Coastal development · Predator ecology · Anthropocene · Urban adapters

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Cite this article as: Hammerschlag N, Gutowsky LFG, Rider MJ, Roemer R, Gallagher AJ (2022) Urban sharks: residency patterns of marine top predators in relation to a coastal metropolis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 691:1-17.

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