Annual migrations, diving behavior, and thermal biology of Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, on their Gulf of Mexico breeding grounds
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Electronic tags were used to examine the biology of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus L.) on their breeding grounds in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The hypothesis that movement patterns, diving behavior, and thermal biology change during different stages of the breeding migration was tested. Mature Atlantic bluefin tuna tagged in the western Atlantic and the GOM, were on their breeding grounds from February to June for an average of 39 ± 11 days. The bluefin tuna experienced significantly warmer mean sea surface temperatures (SSTs) within the GOM (26.4 ± 1.6°C) than outside the GOM (20.2 ± 1.9°C). As the bluefin tuna entered and exited the GOM, the fish dove to daily maximum depths of 568 ± 50 and 580 ± 144 m, respectively, and exhibited directed movement paths to and from the localized breeding areas. During the putative breeding phase, the bluefin tuna had significantly shallower daily maximum depths (203 ± 76 m), and exhibited shallow oscillatory dives during the night. The movement paths of the bluefin tuna during the breeding phase were significantly more residential and sinuous. The heat transfer coefficients (K) were calculated for a bluefin tuna in the GOM using the recorded ambient and body temperatures. The K for this fish increased rapidly at the high ambient temperatures encountered in the GOM, and was significantly higher at night in the breeding phase when the fish was exhibiting shallow oscillatory dives. This suggests that the fish were behaviorally and physiologically thermoregulating in the Gulf of Mexico. This study demonstrates that the movement patterns, diving behavior, and thermal biology of Atlantic bluefin tuna change significantly at different stages of the breeding migration and can be used to define spawning location and timing.