Oceanographic and atmospheric phenomena influence the abundance of whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

J. C. Sleeman, M. G. Meekan, B. J. Fitzpatrick, C. R. Steinberg, R. Ancel, C. J.A. Bradshaw

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29 Citations (Scopus)


Seasonal observations of whale shark abundance recorded by ecotourist operators at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia from 1999 to 2004 were compared with weekly regional and global oceanographic and atmospheric variables, including average sea surface temperatures, along-shelf wind shear, sea level and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). Estimates of these physical variables were derived from either ground-based data or from remote sensing instruments. A generalised linear mixed-effects modelling (GLMM) approach with random sampling and model simulation was used to determine the relationships between the number of whale sharks and all model variants of the environmental parameters, using information-theoretic weights of evidence to rank models. SOI and wind shear had the most support for explaining the deviance in weekly whale shark abundance at Ningaloo Reef during a season. The SOI and wind shear variables positively influenced whale shark abundance such that more sharks were sighted when the Southern Oscillation was stronger and along-shelf winds were increasingly prevalent. This may reflect changes in the strength of oceanographic processes such as the Leeuwin Current (in response to the Southern Oscillation) and wind/current driven upwelling which may affect the abundance of whale sharks transported to the region and/or the availability of their prey by driving productivity changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-81
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Abundance
  • ENSO
  • Ningaloo Reef
  • Oceanography
  • Rhincodon typus
  • Southern Oscillation
  • SST
  • Whale sharks


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