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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Large-scale space use of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata: implications for management

Jasmin Graham*, Andrea M. Kroetz, Gregg R. Poulakis, Rachel M. Scharer, John K. Carlson, Susan Lowerre-Barbieri, Danielle Morley, Eric A. Reyier, R. Dean Grubbs

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The smalltooth sawfish Pristis pectinata is an endangered species endemic to the Atlantic Ocean. The only known viable populations occur in the US along both coasts of Florida and in the western Bahamas. Little is known about habitat use and movement ecology of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish. Although Critical Habitat—a management designation in the US—has been identified for small juveniles, it has yet to be identified for these life stages. Between May 2016 and April 2019, we used passive acoustic telemetry and three large data sharing networks to track movements of 43 large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish. During this study, 24 females and 19 males were implanted with transmitters with estimated 4-yr or 10-yr battery lives. These tagged individuals were detected off the southeastern US on 461 receivers ranging from off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia to the lower Florida Keys, and along the Gulf coast to Apalachee Bay, Florida. Seasonal migrations were undertaken by 58% (43% mature; 57% immature) of the tagged individuals, with the remainder being apparent residents of their tagging locations. Tagged sawfish from both size classes and of both sexes migrated, which indicates that neither sex or length are predictors about whether a sawfish will migrate or not. Although both coasts of Florida were used for migration, most individuals consistently used the same coast when they migrated. The areas surrounding Boca Grande, Cape Canaveral, and the lower Florida Keys were heavily visited sites that could be further evaluated as potential Critical Habitat for these life stages. Understanding the movement patterns of this critically endangered species is essential for creating policies to protect areas important to the continued growth of the population.