Identifying Suitable Habitat for Three Highly Migratory Sharks (Great Hammerhead, Tiger, and Bull) and Assessing Their Spatial Vulnerability to Commercial Longline Fishing in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Aquatic highly migratory species (HMS) are economically and ecologically important, however, their highly migratory nature makes them difficult to study and thus there are knowledge gaps relating to their movement and habitat use patterns. Highly migratory sharks are likely to interact with commercial longline fishing gear and be caught as target or bycatch, which can threaten their populations. Understanding the environmental factors that influence and drive the movements of highly migratory sharks may help researchers better predict their presence and subsequently identify areas where they are vulnerability to fisheries. Here I evaluated the overlap between habitat suitability and gear restricted zones for three co-occurring apex predatory sharks in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico (great hammerhead Sphyrna mokarran, tiger Galeocerdo cuvier, and bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas) to identify areas in this region where these species are vulnerable to and protected from commercial longline fishing. This research was accomplished in three integrated steps. First, I reviewed and summarized what is known about the environmental drivers of great hammerhead, tiger, and bull shark habitat use and movement patterns. Second, I used the results of this review to parameterize and subsequently generate habitat suitability models for these three species. Third, I used these models to spatially compare where each species’ highly suitable habitat overlaps with longline gear restricted areas within the Southwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, to identify regions where these species were both vulnerable to and protected from longline fishing gear. The results of this thesis have implications to the management of these species as well as for the conservation of other highly migratory aquatic species.