Tiger sharks can travel more than 1,000 kilometres across the Coral Sea, according to new research conducted off the coast of Queensland.
The large distances some sharks travel suggests that Marine Protected Areas may only afford brief protection for large tiger sharks.
Shark scientist Jonathan Werry of Griffith University has undertaken a four-year study tracking the migratory patterns of tiger sharks across the Southwest Pacific.
The research, in collaboration with the French government, followed the movement of 33 tiger sharks (1.54 to 3.9 metres length) across the Coral Sea between New Caledonia and the Great Barrier Reef.
The animals were tagged with satellite and acoustic transmitters and their localised movements monitored by receivers in New Caledonia, the Chesterfield and Lord Howe Islands in the Coral Sea and the east coast of Queensland, Australia.
Dr Werry said the findings, to be published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, reveal that coastal marine parks provide only brief protection for these important marine predators while oceanic reefs, vital to their ecology, are overlooked.
One 3.7 metre female tiger shark was recorded to a previously unknown depth of 1,136 metres.
“When it comes to traveling long distances adult females are the primary custodians for the ‘across Coral Sea’ migrations, and this is probably driven by triennial reproductive cycles,” Dr Werry said.
“Pre-reproductive females and mature male tiger sharks on the other hand, were observed to demonstrate extraordinary year round residency in the oceanic Chesterfields reef, so this area appears to be a very important habitat for them.”
On coastal reefs, all of the monitored tiger sharks were found to be transient.
Dr Werry said understanding the habitat-use and migration patterns of large sharks is extremely important for assessing the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas, as well as the vulnerability of these predators to fisheries and environmental influences and management of shark-human interactions.
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