MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13010

Fine-scale movements of juvenile blacktip reef sharks Carcharhinus melanopterus in a shallow nearshore nursery

Lachlan W. George*, Ana P. B. Martins, Michelle R. Heupel, Colin A. Simpfendorfer

*Email: lachlan.george@my.jcu.edu.au

ABSTRACT: Limited information is available on the fine-scale movements and habitat use of juvenile sharks in very shallow (<1 m) nearshore areas and the factors that drive these behaviours. Active acoustic tracking was used to investigate movements and habitat use of juvenile (683 ± 58 mm TL) blacktip reef sharks Carcharhinus melanopterus at Orpheus Island, Australia. Six juveniles were tracked by foot and boat for over 62 h. Juveniles moved in synchrony with tidal cycles, always remaining within very shallow (<1 m) sandy reef flat or reef crest waters during outgoing, low and incoming tides, and using inundated mangrove habitat during higher tides, indicating tidal fluctuations were a major driver of movement and habitat use. Individuals never left the bay where they were captured or entered deep water beyond the fringing reef, restricting their movements within water <60 cm deep. In general, linearity and rate of movement were significantly higher during incoming or outgoing tides, whilst these measures were significantly lower during higher tide heights when juveniles were occupying mangrove habitats. The observed behaviour was most likely a predator avoidance strategy, highlighting the importance of mangrove root habitat use by juvenile blacktip reef sharks in coastal nursery areas and indicating that this may be an essential habitat for the young of this species.