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Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Motta P.J.,University of South Florida | Maslanka M.,Georgia Aquarium | Hueter R.E.,Center for Shark Research | Davis R.L.,Georgia Aquarium | And 8 more authors.
Zoology | Year: 2010

The feeding anatomy, behavior and diet of the whale shark Rhincodon typus were studied off Cabo Catoche, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The filtering apparatus is composed of 20 unique filtering pads that completely occlude the pharyngeal cavity. A reticulated mesh lies on the proximal surface of the pads, with openings averaging 1.2mm in diameter. Superficial to this, a series of primary and secondary cartilaginous vanes support the pads and direct the water across the primary gill filaments. During surface ram filter feeding, sharks swam at an average velocity of 1.1m/s with 85% of the open mouth below the water's surface. Sharks on average spent approximately 7.5h/day feeding at the surface on dense plankton dominated by sergestids, calanoid copepods, chaetognaths and fish larvae. Based on calculated flow speed and underwater mouth area, it was estimated that a whale shark of 443cm total length (TL) filters 326m3/h, and a 622cm TL shark 614m3/h. With an average plankton biomass of 4.5g/m3 at the feeding site, the two sizes of sharks on average would ingest 1467 and 2763g of plankton per hour, and their daily ration would be approximately 14,931 and 28,121kJ, respectively. These values are consistent with independently derived feeding rations of captive, growing whale sharks in an aquarium. A feeding mechanism utilizing cross-flow filtration of plankton is described, allowing the sharks to ingest plankton that is smaller than the mesh while reducing clogging of the filtering apparatus. © 2010 Elsevier GmbH.

Tyminski J.P.,Center for Shark Research | De La Parra-Venegas R.,Chooj Ajauil AC | Cano J.G.,Proyecto Domino | Hueter R.E.,Center for Shark Research
PLoS ONE | Year: 2015

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a wide-ranging, filter-feeding species typically observed at or near the surface. This shark's sub-surface habits and behaviors have only begun to be revealed in recent years through the use of archival and satellite tagging technology. We attached pop-up satellite archival transmitting tags to 35 whale sharks in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan Peninsula from 2003-2012 and three tags to whale sharks in the northeastern Gulf off Florida in 2010, to examine these sharks' longterm movement patterns and gain insight into the underlying factors influencing their vertical habitat selection. Archived data were received from 31 tags deployed on sharks of both sexes with total lengths of 5.5-9 m. Nine of these tags were physically recovered facilitating a detailed long-term view into the sharks' vertical movements. Whale sharks feeding inshore on fish eggs off the northeast Yucatan Peninsula demonstrated reverse diel vertical migration, with extended periods of surface swimming beginning at sunrise followed by an abrupt change in the mid-afternoon to regular vertical oscillations, a pattern that continued overnight. When in oceanic waters, sharks spent about 95% of their time within epipelagic depths (<200 m) but regularly undertook very deep ("extreme") dives (>500 m) that largely occurred during daytime or twilight hours (max. depth recorded 1,928 m), had V-shaped depth-time profiles, and comprised more rapid descents (0.68 m sec-1) than ascents (0.50 m sec-1). Nearly half of these extreme dives had descent profiles with brief but conspicuous changes in vertical direction at a mean depth of 475 m. We hypothesize these stutter steps represent foraging events within the deep scattering layer, however, the extreme dives may have additional functions. Overall, our results demonstrate complex and dynamic patterns of habitat utilization for R. typus that appear to be in response to changing biotic and abiotic conditions influencing the distribution and abundance of their prey. © 2015 Tyminski et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

de la Parra Venegas R.,Proyecto Domino | Hueter R.,Center for Shark Research | Cano J.G.,Proyecto Domino | Tyminski J.,Center for Shark Research | And 6 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2011

Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, are often perceived as solitary behemoths that live and feed in the open ocean. To the contrary, evidence is accumulating that they are gregarious and form seasonal aggregations in some coastal waters. One such aggregation occurs annually north of Cabo Catoche, off Isla Holbox on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Here we report a second, much denser aggregation of whale sharks (dubbed "the Afuera") that occurs east of the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. The 2009 Afuera event comprised the largest aggregation of whale sharks ever reported, with up to 420 whale sharks observed in a single aerial survey, all gathered in an elliptical patch of ocean approximately 18 km2. Plankton studies indicated that the sharks were feeding on dense homogenous patches of fish eggs, which DNA barcoding analysis identified as belonging to little tunny, Euthynnus alletteratus. This contrasts with the annual Cabo Catoche aggregation nearby, where prey consists mostly of copepods and sergestid shrimp. Increased sightings at the Afuera coincide with decreased sightings at Cabo Catoche, and both groups have the same sex ratio, implying that the same animals are likely involved in both aggregations; tagging data support this idea. With two whale shark aggregation areas, high coastal productivity and a previously-unknown scombrid spawning ground, the northeastern Yucatán marine region is a critical habitat that deserves more concerted conservation efforts. © 2011 de la Parra Venegas et al.

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