Tiger shark migrations changed by rising ocean temperatures from climate change

In a new study, Dr. Neil Hammerschlag and colleagues used multiple methods to assess the effects of warming oceans on tiger shark movements in the western North Atlantic. Credit: Bianca Rangel

A new study led by scientists at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (UM) reveals that the locations and timing of tiger shark movement in the western North Atlantic have been altered by rising ocean temperatures. These climate-driven changes subsequently diverted the movements of tiger sharks out of protected areas, making the sharks more vulnerable to commercial fishing.

The movements of tiger sharks, (Galliocerdo Cover) is the largest cold-blooded predator in warm tropical and temperate seas, limited by the need to survive in warm waters. While the waters off the northeastern coast of the United States have historically been too cold for tiger sharks, temperatures have risen dramatically in recent years making them suitable for tiger sharks.

“Annual migrations of tiger sharks have expanded in the polar direction, in parallel with rising water temperatures,” said Neil Hammerschlag, director of the UM Shark Research and Conservation Program and lead author of the study. “These findings have consequences for the conservation of tiger sharks, as shifts in their movements outside MPAs may make them more vulnerable to commercial fishing.”

Hammerschlag and the research team discovered these climate-driven changes by analyzing nine years of tracking data from satellite-tagged tiger sharks, along with nearly forty years of conventional tags and recovery information provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data. Sea surface temperature derived from software and satellite.

The study found that over the past decade, when ocean temperatures were the warmest on record, for every 1 degree Celsius Increasing above-average water temperatures, tiger sharks’ migrations to the North Pole extended about 250 miles (more than 400 km), and sharks also migrated about 14 days ago into the waters off the northeastern coast of the United States.

The findings may have larger implications for the ecosystem. “Because of their role as predators, these changes in tiger shark movements may alter predator-prey interactions, leading to ecological imbalances, and more frequent encounters with humans,” Hammerschlag said.

Reference: “Ocean warming alters distribution range, migration timing, and spatial protection of an apex predator, the tiger shark (Galliocerdo Cover) “January 13, 2022, The biology of global change.
DOI: 10.1111 / gcb.16045

The study authors are: Neil Hammerschlag, Laura McDonnell, Mitchell Ryder, Ben Kertman from UM Rosenstiel. Jarrett Street and Melanie Boudreaux of Mississippi State University; Elliot Hazen, Lisa Natanson, Camilla McCandless of NOAA Fisheries; Austin C. Gallagher from under the waves; and Malin Pinsky of Rutgers University.

The Batchelor Foundation, the Disney Conservation Fund, Wells Fargo, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation, Seakeepers International, Oceania, Hove Productions at National Geographic, and the West Coast Inland Navigation District provided support for the study.

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