Inter-ocean asynchrony in whale shark occurrence patterns

Ana Sequeira, Camille Mellin, Laurent Floch, Peter Williams, Corey Bradshaw

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    The whale shark (Rhincodon typus, Smith, 1828) is a migratory species (classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN) with genetic and circumstantial evidence for inter-ocean connectivity. Given this migratory behaviour, population-wide occurrence trends can only be contextualized by examining the synchrony in occurrence patterns among locations where they occur. We present a two-step modelling approach of whale shark spatial and temporal probability of occurrence in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans using generalized linear mixed-effects models. To test the hypothesis that the probability of whale shark occurrence is asynchronous across oceans, as expected if inter-ocean migration occurs, we used long-term datasets of whale shark sightings derived from tuna purse-seine logbooks covering most of the central-east Atlantic (1980-2010) and western Pacific (2000-2010). We predicted seasonal habitat suitability to produce maps in each area, and then evaluated the relative effect of time (year) on the probability of occurrence to test whether it changed over the study period. We also applied fast Fourier transforms to determine if any periodicity was apparent in whale shark occurrences in each ocean. After partialling out the effects of seasonal patterns in spatial distribution and sampling effort, we found no evidence for a temporal trend in whale shark occurrence in the Atlantic, but there was a weak trend of increasing probability of occurrence in the Pacific. The highest-ranked model for the latter included a spatial predictor of occurrence along with fishing effort, a linear term for time, and a random temporal effect (year), explaining 15% of deviance in whale shark probability of occurrence. Fast Fourier transforms revealed a prominent 15.5-year cycle in the Atlantic. The increase in the probability of occurrence in the Pacific is concurrent with a decrease previously detected in the Indian Ocean. Cyclic patterns driven by migratory behaviour would better explain temporal trends in whale shark occurrence at the oceanic scale. However, despite cycles partially explaining observations of fewer sharks in some years, overall reported sighting rate has been decreasing. As a result, we suggest that the current IUCN status of the species should be re-assessed, but more data are needed to examine the flow of individuals across oceans and to identify possible reasons for asynchronous occurrences.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-29
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


    • Asynchrony
    • IUCN status
    • Rhincodon typus
    • Species distribution models
    • Temporal trends
    • Tuna purse-seine fisheries


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