7 November 2018
As upper-level predators, sharks are important for maintaining marine food web structure, but populations are threatened by fishery exploitation. Sustainable management of shark populations requires improved understanding of migration patterns and population demographics, which has traditionally been sought through physical and/or electronic tagging studies. The application of natural tags such as elemental variations in mineralized band pairs of elasmobranch vertebrae cartilage could also reveal endogenous and exogenous processes experienced by sharks throughout their life histories. Here, elemental profiles were characterized in vertebrae encompassing complete life histories (birth-to-death) of shortfin mako ( Isurus oxyrinchus), common thresher ( Alopias vulpinus) and blue shark ( Prionace glauca) of known tag and recapture locations in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. All sharks were injected with oxytetracycline at initial capture, released and subsequently recaptured, with individual liberty times ranging from 215 days to 6 years. Vertebral band pairs forming over the liberty intervals were verified by counting the number of band pairs deposited since the oxytetracycline band. Regular oscillations in vertebrae manganese (Mn) content corresponded well with the number of validated band pairs, suggesting that Mn variation could be used to age sharks. Increases in vertebrae barium concentration were correlated with times when individuals occupied areas with high coastal upwelling indices, the timing and spatial intensity of which varied from year to year. Interspecific relationships were probably influenced by behavioural differences in horizontal and vertical habitat use, feeding habits and thermoregulatory physiology. These results indicate that vertebral sclerochronology has the potential to advance our knowledge of elasmobranch life history including age and growth estimation and environmental reconstruction.