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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 694:133-148 (2022)  -  DOI:

Physical and environmental drivers of oceanic manta ray Mobula birostris sightings at an aggregation site in Bahía de Banderas, Mexico

Iliana A. Fonseca-Ponce1,2,3,4,*, Aldo A. Zavala-Jiménez1,4, Octavio Aburto-Oropeza5, Adrián Maldonado-Gasca2, Felipe Galván-Magaña3, Rogelio González-Armas3, Joshua D. Stewart4,6

1Proyecto Manta Pacific México, Circuito Santa Barbara 88, Rincón del cielo 63735, Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit, Mexico
2Tecnológico Nacional de México / IT Bahía de Banderas, Crucero a Punta de Mita S/N, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, 63734, Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit, Mexico
3Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR-IPN), Av. IPN S/N, Playa Palo de Santa Rita, 23096 La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
4The Manta Trust, Catemwood House, Norwood Lane, Dorset DT2 0NT, UK
5Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
6Marine Mammal Institute, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, Newport, OR 97365, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Oceanic manta rays Mobula birostris are distributed in tropical and subtropical oceans with aggregation sites typically at oceanic islands and seamounts. However, in some regions the species is found in coastal habitats close to highly productive areas. Recently, an important aggregation site for oceanic manta rays was identified along the southern coast of Bahía de Banderas, Mexico. We conducted weekly monitoring trips to the aggregation hotspots over a period of 4½ yr, recording manta sightings and collecting zooplankton samples, to investigate relationships between sightings and prey availability. We evaluated relationships between manta sightings and physical, biological, and environmental variables, finding a seasonal signal of manta occurrence with a peak in sightings around April, although there were substantial deviations from this trend in some years. Our results show effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation on sighting rates, with more mantas during La Niña phases. We found significant relationships between manta sightings and sea surface temperature, moon phase, and tidal range. Manta sightings were negatively related to fish egg densities, positively related to copepod and cladoceran densities, and showed no relationship to euphausiid density. Mantas may be feeding on mesopelagic prey in the submarine canyon adjacent to the southern coast and basking in shallow waters through the day during thermal recovery periods. Identifying the seasonal patterns of occurrence and the environmental drivers of sightings will support the development of strategies to mitigate anthropogenic threats, which are common in this coastal population.

KEY WORDS: Co-occurrence · Filter-feeder · Elasmobranch · Seasonality · GAM · Zooplankton

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Cite this article as: Fonseca-Ponce IA, Zavala-Jiménez AA, Aburto-Oropeza O, Maldonado-Gasca A, Galván-Magaña F, González-Armas R, Stewart JD (2022) Physical and environmental drivers of oceanic manta ray Mobula birostris sightings at an aggregation site in Bahía de Banderas, Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 694:133-148.

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