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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 695:125-138 (2022)  -  DOI:

Multi-year assessment of immature bull shark Carcharhinus leucas residency and activity spaces in an expansive estuarine nursery

Michelle L. Edwards1,*, Michael McCallister1, Lauran R. Brewster1, Charles W. Bangley2,3, Tobey H. Curtis4, Matthew B. Ogburn2, Matthew J. Ajemian1

1Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University, Fort Pierce, Florida 34946, USA
2Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA
3Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada
4Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01930, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Although portions of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), Florida (USA), serve as essential fish habitat for US Atlantic coast bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas, past studies were short-term (days to months) and encompassed only small parts of this expansive estuarine system. In this study, 29 immature bull sharks were tracked in the IRL between Port St. John and Port Salerno, Florida, and in adjacent shelf waters for up to 4 yr using passive acoustic telemetry. Dynamic Brownian bridge movement models showed small daily (50% utilization distribution [UD] = 1.00 km2, 95% UD = 4.36 km2) and monthly (50% UD = 4.88 km2, 95% UD = 24.67 km2) mean activity spaces that seasonally shifted (October-March) to include adjacent coastal waters. Tracked bull sharks were found to display residency in the IRL and in distinct subregions of the system. Analysis confirmed that bull shark nursery habitat extends south of Sebastian Inlet to Port Salerno, approximately 86 km farther south than previously described, and that adjacent shelf waters, which had not been studied, are important to immature bull sharks during cooler months. This study provides the first multi-year assessment of bull shark space use in the IRL, with improved resolution and over a greater expanse of the system than past studies. These movement data will be important to understanding how young bull sharks may be affected by anthropogenic stressors in this highly impacted lagoonal estuary.

KEY WORDS: Acoustic telemetry · Shark nursery · Dynamic Brownian bridge movement model · Ontogenetic shift · Indian River Lagoon

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Cite this article as: Edwards ML, McCallister M, Brewster LR, Bangley CW, Curtis TH, Ogburn MB, Ajemian MJ (2022) Multi-year assessment of immature bull shark Carcharhinus leucas residency and activity spaces in an expansive estuarine nursery. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 695:125-138.

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