Segregation or aggregation? Sex-specific patterns in the seasonal occurrence of white sharks Carcharodon carcharias at the Neptune Islands, South Australia

The seasonal patterns of occurrence of male and female white sharks Carcharodon carcharias at the Neptune Islands in South Australia were reviewed. Analyses of a 14 year data series indicate that females seasonally aggregate in late autumn and winter coinciding with the maximum in-water availability of lactating female long-nose fur seals and seal pups. During this period, observed male:female sex ratios were similar; whereas during late spring and summer, males continued to visit, but females were rarely recorded. There was no evidence for segregation by sex or size at the Neptunes, but the highly focused seasonal pattern of occurrence of females compared with the year-round records of males suggests that there are likely to be differences between the sexes in overall distribution and movement patterns across southern Australia. It is suggested that foraging strategies and prey selection differ between sexes in C. carcharias across the life-history stages represented and that sex-specific foraging strategies may play an important role in structuring movement patterns and the sex ratios observed at such aggregation sites. Differences between sexes in distribution, movement patterns and foraging strategies are likely to have implications for modelling the consequences of fisheries by-catch between regions or jurisdictions and other spatially or temporally discrete anthropogenic effects on C. carcharias populations. Such differences urge for caution when estimating the size of C. carcharias populations based on observations at pinniped colonies due to the likelihood of sex-specific differences in movements and patterns of residency. These differences also suggest a need to account for sex-specific movement patterns and distribution in population and movement models as well as under conservation actions.

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