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      An Unprecedented Aggregation of Whale Sharks, Rhincodon typus, in Mexican Coastal Waters of the Caribbean Sea

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          Abstract

          Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, are often perceived as solitary behemoths that live and feed in the open ocean. To the contrary, evidence is accumulating that they are gregarious and form seasonal aggregations in some coastal waters. One such aggregation occurs annually north of Cabo Catoche, off Isla Holbox on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Here we report a second, much denser aggregation of whale sharks (dubbed “the Afuera”) that occurs east of the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. The 2009 Afuera event comprised the largest aggregation of whale sharks ever reported, with up to 420 whale sharks observed in a single aerial survey, all gathered in an elliptical patch of ocean approximately 18 km 2. Plankton studies indicated that the sharks were feeding on dense homogenous patches of fish eggs, which DNA barcoding analysis identified as belonging to little tunny, Euthynnus alletteratus. This contrasts with the annual Cabo Catoche aggregation nearby, where prey consists mostly of copepods and sergestid shrimp. Increased sightings at the Afuera coincide with decreased sightings at Cabo Catoche, and both groups have the same sex ratio, implying that the same animals are likely involved in both aggregations; tagging data support this idea. With two whale shark aggregation areas, high coastal productivity and a previously-unknown scombrid spawning ground, the northeastern Yucatán marine region is a critical habitat that deserves more concerted conservation efforts.

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          Most cited references 18

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          Whale sharks Rhincodon typus aggregate to feed on fish spawn in Belize

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            Population genetic structure of Earth's largest fish, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus).

            Large pelagic vertebrates pose special conservation challenges because their movements generally exceed the boundaries of any single jurisdiction. To assess the population structure of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), we sequenced complete mitochondrial DNA control regions from individuals collected across a global distribution. We observed 51 single site polymorphisms and 8 regions with indels comprising 44 haplotypes in 70 individuals, with high haplotype (h = 0.974 +/- 0.008) and nucleotide diversity (pi = 0.011 +/- 0.006). The control region has the largest length variation yet reported for an elasmobranch (1143-1332 bp). Phylogenetic analyses reveal no geographical clustering of lineages and the most common haplotype was distributed globally. The absence of population structure across the Indian and Pacific basins indicates that oceanic expanses and land barriers in Southeast Asia are not impediments to whale shark dispersal. We did, however, find significant haplotype frequency differences (AMOVA, Phi(ST) = 0.107, P < 0.001) principally between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific populations. In contrast to other recent surveys of globally distributed sharks, we find much less population subdivision and no evidence for cryptic evolutionary partitions. Discovery of the mating and pupping areas of whale sharks is key to further population genetic studies. The global pattern of shared haplotypes in whale sharks provides a compelling argument for development of broad international approaches for management and conservation of Earth's largest fish.
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              Assessing the size, growth rate and structure of a seasonal population of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus Smith 1828) using conventional tagging and photo identification

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS One
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1932-6203
                2011
                29 April 2011
                : 6
                : 4
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Proyecto Dominó, Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, Cancún, Quintana Roo, México
                [2 ]Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida, United States of America
                [3 ]Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C., United States of America
                [4 ]Laboratories of Analytical Biology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., United States of America
                [5 ]Georgia Aquarium Research Center, Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America
                Institute of Marine Research, Norway
                Author notes

                Conceived and designed the experiments: RdlPV RH JGC JGR MM LW BC AD. Performed the experiments: RdlPV RH JGC JT JGR MM AO LW BC AD. Analyzed the data: RdlPV RH JT MM AO LW BC AD. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: RdlPV RH JGC JT JGR MM AO LW BC AD. Wrote the paper: RdlPV AD BC. Sequenced fish genes: AO LW. Nutritional analyses: MM.

                Article
                PONE-D-10-04593
                10.1371/journal.pone.0018994
                3084747
                21559508
                de la Parra Venegas et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 8
                Categories
                Research Article
                Biology
                Ecology
                Marine Ecology
                Marine Biology
                Fisheries Science
                Marine Conservation
                Zoology
                Animal Behavior
                Ichthyology

                Uncategorized

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