Transequatorial migrations by basking sharks in the western Atlantic Ocean

Gregory B Skomal, Stephen I Zeeman, John H Chisholm, Erin L Summers, Harvey J Walsh, Kelton W McMahon, Simon R Thorrold
Current Biology: CB 2009 June 23, 19 (12): 1019-22
The world's second largest fish, the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), is broadly distributed in boreal to warm temperate latitudes of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans from shallow coastal waters to the open ocean. Previous satellite archival tagging in the North Atlantic has shown that basking sharks move seasonally, are often associated with productive frontal zones, and may make occasional dives to mesopelagic depths. However, basking sharks are thought to be restricted to temperate latitudes, and the extent to which they exploit deeper-water habitat remains enigmatic. Via satellite archival tags and a novel geolocation technique, we demonstrate here that basking sharks are seasonal migrants to mesopelagic tropical waters. Tagged sharks moved from temperate feeding areas off the coast of southern New England to the Bahamas, the Caribbean Sea, and onward to the coast of South America and into the Southern Hemisphere. When in these areas, basking sharks descended to mesopelagic depths and in some cases remained there for weeks to months at a time. Our results demonstrate that tropical waters are not a barrier to migratory connectivity for basking shark populations and highlight the need for global conservation efforts throughout the species range.

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