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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 715:1-25 (2023)  -  DOI:

An open spatial capture-recapture framework for estimating the abundance and seasonal dynamics of white sharks at aggregation sites

Megan V. Winton1,2,*, Gavin Fay2, Gregory B. Skomal3

1Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, North Chatham, MA 02650, USA
2Department of Fisheries Oceanography, School for Marine Science and Technology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, New Bedford, MA 02744, USA
3Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, New Bedford, MA 02744, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The present study provides the first estimate of abundance for the white shark at a new aggregation site in the western North Atlantic, which required the development of a novel modeling framework to accommodate the species’ migratory behavior. Estimates of abundance are needed to evaluate the performance of existing conservation measures for white shark populations worldwide but have historically been infeasible to obtain in the region. Following the recent emergence of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA, as a seasonal aggregation site, we conducted a photographic capture-recapture survey and identified 393 individual white sharks from 2015-2018. As conventional capture-recapture models do not adequately represent the species’ migratory behavior, we extended an existing open spatial capture-recapture framework to allow for movements into and out of the surveyed area and accommodate variation in residency and habitat use among individuals. Using simulations, we demonstrated that failing to account for these processes resulted in biased estimates of abundance that would be misleading if used as the basis for management advice. We applied the model developed to describe the seasonal dynamics of the Cape Cod aggregation site and estimated a superpopulation size of 800 (393-1286) individuals, which provides an important baseline for this species of conservation concern. Because it directly links changes in abundance over time to the demographic processes underpinning them, the model described provides a more mechanistic understanding of the dynamics of white shark aggregations and improves the applied relevance of the results for the conservation and management of the species.

KEY WORDS: Open population mark-recapture · Carcharodon carcharias · Photographic identification · Western North Atlantic · Telemetry-integrated model · Highly migratory species

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Cite this article as: Winton MV, Fay G, Skomal GB (2023) An open spatial capture-recapture framework for estimating the abundance and seasonal dynamics of white sharks at aggregation sites. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 715:1-25.

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