Companions and Casual Acquaintances: The Nature of Associations Among Bull Sharks at a Shark Feeding Site in Fiji

Type Article
Date 2021-06
Language English
Author(s) Bouveroux Thibaut1, 2, Loiseau Nicolas3, Barnett Adam4, 5, Marosi Natasha D.6, Brunnschweiler Juerg M.7
Affiliation(s) 1 : Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory, Dauphin Island, AL, United States
2 : Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, United States
3 : MARBEC, Université de Montpellier, CNRS, IFREMER, IRD, Montpellier, France
4 : College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia
5 : Marine Data Technology Hub, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia
6 : Beqa Adventure Divers, Pacific Harbor, Fiji
7 : Independent Researcher, Zurich, Switzerland
Source Frontiers In Marine Science (2296-7745) (Frontiers Media SA), 2021-06 , Vol. 8 , P. 678074 (11p.)
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2021.678074
Keyword(s) social bonds, co-occurrence, insular marine predators, fission-fusion, central place foragers, shark feeding

Provisioning activities in wildlife tourism often lead to short-term animal aggregations during the feeding events. However, the presence of groups does not necessarily mean that individuals interact among each other and form social networks. At the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Fiji, several dozen bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) regularly visit a site, where direct feeding is conducted during tourism driven shark dives. On 3,063 shark feeding dives between 2003 and 2016, we visually confirmed the presence of 91 individual bull sharks based on external and long-lasting identification markings. We measured the intensity of associations between pairs of individuals by calculating the Simple Ratio Index (SRI) and calculated Generalized Affiliation Indices (GAIs) to distinguish true associations between dyads from structural predictor factors. Although the resulting mean SRIs were low, ranging from 0.01 to 0.12 (SRImean = 0.06; mean SRImax = 0.21), preferred long-term companionships were observed between individuals. Avoidances were also observed within pairs of individuals during the second half of the study. The best fitting model describing the temporal association patterns of bull sharks revealed a social structure which is characterized by preferred companionships and casual acquaintances. Our results suggest that the aggregation resulting from direct feeding has served to facilitate the development of social associations.

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