A video and photographic study of aggregation, swimming and respiratory behaviour changes in the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in response to the presence of SCUBA divers

Sean M. Barker, Victor M. Peddemors, Jane E. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) is a popular attraction for shark eco-tourism using SCUBA. The species is also 'globally Vulnerable' (IUCN 2008. List of Threatened Species. www.iucnredlist.org/. Magic Point (off Maroubra) in Sydney is favoured by recreational SCUBA divers wishing to observe these sharks. The objective of this study was to experimentally test the level of the activities of recreational SCUBA divers on shark behaviour. This study assessed the shark responses to diver group size (4, 8 and 12), time of day (am, noon and pm) and diver distance from the sharks (3m and 6 m). The study found that diver activity does affect the aggregation, swimming and respiratory behaviour of sharks at this site, albeit at shortterm levels. Diver group size had no significant effect on shark aggregation, but the proximity of divers to the sharks was crucial. Shark distribution in the cave changed significantly in the presence of divers at 3m distance from the cave, but stayed unchanged at 6m. This was particularly apparent in the presence of large groups of 12 divers at 3m distance when sharks increased their swim speed and ventilation mechanism from 'active' to 'RAM' ventilation. Such change coincided with a sudden decrease in ventilation frequency. Our research suggests that these effects are shortterm and that sharks resume their behaviour once the divers retreat. If divers abide by the current code of practice for diving at this site, it is unlikely that their activities will substantially impact Grey Nurse Sharks in the long term.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-92
Number of pages18
JournalMarine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology
Volume44
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

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