Changes in diving behaviour and habitat use of provisioned whale sharks: implications for management

Gonzalo Araujo, Jessica Labaja, Sally Snow, Charlie Huveneers, Alessandro Ponzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) tourism is increasingly popular at predictable aggregations around the world, but only a few use provisioning to ensure close interactions. Understanding the effects of provisioning on the behaviour of this endangered species is critical to manage this growing industry. We recorded the diving behaviour and habitat use of juvenile whale sharks (n = 4) for a mean of 49.5 provisioned and 33.8 non-provisioned days using temperature-depth-recorders. We found that time spent at the surface (< 2 m) between 6 am and 1 pm increased ~ sixfold, while timing of deep dives shifted from 4–10 am to 10 am–2 pm, i.e. near or at the end of the provisioning activities. The shift might be related to a need to thermoregulate following a prolonged period of time in warmer water. These changes could have fitness implications for individuals frequently visiting the provisioning site. Based on recorded amount of time spent in warm waters and published Q10 values for ectotherms, we estimate a 7.2 ± 3.7% (range 1.3–17.8%) higher metabolic rate when sharks frequent the provisioning site. The observed behavioural, habitat use, and potential fitness shifts should be considered when developing guidelines for sustainable tourism, particularly in light of new provisioning sites developing elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16951
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2020

Keywords

  • Whale Sharks
  • Diving Behaviour
  • Habitat

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