Behavioural patterns of a Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) feeding aggregation at a blue whale carcass in Prony bay, New Caledonia
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Tiger Sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are large top-level predators usually solitary as adults. Observation of their scavenging activity on the carcass of a dead whale offered a rare opportunity for better understanding the pattern of intra-specific behaviour within the aggregations of these large predators. In January 2002, the stranding, subsequent death and consumption of a 17.4?m total length (TL) blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus, was observed and filmed in Prony Bay, southern New Caledonia. After three weeks of confinement in the bay, the cetacean was killed by adult bullsharks Carcharhinus leucas. The first adult Tiger Shark was subsequently observed around the carcass after 36?h. The fat slicks from the carcass attracted further Tiger Sharks which arrived after an additional 24?h. The use of photo-identification on video footage collected during four observation sessions over an eight-day period identified 46 individual Tiger Sharks (primarily adult females between 3.3 and 4?m TL) participating in the feeding aggregation. Only four animals were identified in two seperate observation sessions (over two consecutive days), suggesting a short-term residency pattern of several hours (<36?h) around the carcass. As the arrival time of Tiger Sharks to the carcass differed, most arrivals of a new participant were followed by a frenzied period of intense intra-specific interaction. Different biting and agonistic behaviours were demonstrated by the Tiger Sharks on the carcass, including three new behaviours previously undescribed for this species. Size and level of aggressiveness appeared to be the determining factors of dominance amongst Tiger Sharks. These observations and analysis demonstrate that systematic study of feeding aggregations supported by photo-identification could contribute to knowledge of large shark ecology when coupled with capture-recapture, genetic fingerprinting and tagging techniques.
Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology
Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl. Marine Ichthyology)