Limited latitudinal ranging of juvenile whale sharks in the Western Indian Ocean suggests the existence of regional management units
Assessing the movements and connectivity of whale sharks Rhincodon typus through their range is difficult due to high individual mobility and limited knowledge of their behaviour following dispersal from coastal aggregation sites. Here, we use a large set of photo-identification and stable isotope data (δ15N and δ13C) to test the assumption that sharks frequenting aggregation sites in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Qatar are a mixed stock, as inferred by genetic data. Photo-identification revealed negligible connectivity among aggregation sites and none between the southern and central areas of the Western Indian Ocean (Mozambique and Tanzania) and the Arabian Gulf (Qatar). Sight-resight data indicated that shark movements at each site could be best represented by a model that included emigration, re-immigration, and some mortality or permanent emigration. Although there was high individual variation in the isotope profiles of sharks from each location, comparison with latitudinal isotope data suggests that sharks had shown site fidelity to within a few hundred kilometres of each study area over the period of isotopic integration. Given the Endangered status of whale sharks and regional differences in anthropogenic threat profiles, further studies—and conservation assessment efforts—should consider the possibility that whale shark subpopulations exist over smaller geographical scales than previously documented.