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Evidence for behavioural thermoregulation by the world's largest fish

Posted on 13 March 2013

TitleEvidence for behavioural thermoregulation by the world's largest fish
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsThums, M, Meekan M, Stevens J, Wilson S, Polovina J
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Date Published10/12
Type of ArticleOnline
Keywordsbehaviour, sea temperature, whale shark
AbstractMany fishes make frequent ascents to surface waters and often show prolonged surface swimming following descents to deep water. This affinity for the surface is thought to be related to the recovery of body heat lost at depth. We tested this hypothesis using data from time–depth recorders deployed on four whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). We summarized vertical movements into bouts of dives and classified these into three main types, using cluster analysis. In addition to day and night ‘bounce’ dives where sharks rapidly descended and ascended, we found a third type: single deep (mean: 340 m), long (mean: 169 min) dives, occurring in daytime with extremely long post-dive surface durations (mean: 146 min). Only sharks that were not constrained by shallow bathymetry performed these dives. We found a negative relationship between the mean surface duration of dives in the bout and the mean minimum temperature of dives in the bout that is consistent with the hypothesis that thermoregulation was a major factor driving use of the surface. The relationship broke down when sharks were diving in mean minimum temperatures around 25°C, suggesting that warmer waters did not incur a large metabolic cost for diving and that other factors may also influence surface use.