Pop-up archival tags reveal environmental influences on the vertical movements of silvertip sharks Carcharhinus albimarginatus
Vertical space use informs the ecology and management of marine species, but studies of reef-associated sharks often focus on horizontal movements. We analysed the vertical movements of silvertip sharks Carcharhinus albimarginatus using pop-up archival tags deployed on 7 individuals in the Chagos Archipelago, central Indian Ocean. The sharks changed depth predictably with water column thermal structure, moving deeper with seasonal increases in mixed layer depth while occupying a narrow ambient water temperature range around ~27°C. At shorter timescales, higher resolution data from 5 tags showed that silvertip shark depth varied cyclically with surface light levels, increasing during daylight and on nights around the full moon. This matches the diel vertical migrations of many fish species, suggesting that the sharks’ light-driven depth changes might relate to foraging. While most vertical movements (>98%) were within the mixed layer, deeper dives to 200-800 m occurred approximately every 3 d. High-resolution data from one recovered tag showed the shark ascending deep (>200 m) dives in 2 sharply defined phases, initially fast then slow. Analysis of dive profiles against dissolved oxygen (DO) data suggested that the shark may have ascended rapidly to escape low DO levels at depth, then reduced its ascent rate by 50-80% once DO levels increased. While a small sample, the electronic tags deployed in this study revealed the silvertip sharks’ predictable use of mixed layer waters, narrow thermal range and apparent intolerance of hypoxic conditions. These characteristics may exacerbate the species’ vulnerability as oceanic warming and shoaling oxygen minimum zones modify vertical habitat availability.