Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 93, Issue 1, pp 121–136 | Cite as

Movements, reproductive seasonality, and fisheries interactions in the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) from community-contributed photographs

  • Nicholas M. Whitney
  • Richard L. Pyle
  • Kim N. Holland
  • Jessica T. Barcz


Despite being a common apex-level predator on coral reefs throughout the tropical Indo-Pacific, surprisingly little is known about whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) movements and biology. This study used photo-identification from community-contributed photographs to reveal patterns in movements, reproductive biology, and fisheries interactions in this species that have not been previously revealed through more traditional methods. At least 178 individual sharks were identified, and 26 movements were observed. These included movement distances of up to 26.4 km, movement rates of up to 3.27 km/day (9.8 km in 3 days), and movements that required the transit of a 140 m deep channel. Other animals showed high philopatry, being re-sighted at the same locality on multiple occasions (up to 13 sightings for one individual) over periods of up to 7 years. Females showed higher philopatry than males and were more likely than males to be found at shallow (<10 m depth) localities throughout the year. The proportion of male sightings at shallow localities was significantly higher in April and May than other months of the year, possibly due to males coming into the shallows to mate with females. A peak in sightings of late-term females followed by an abrupt decline suggests that pupping season is May into early June, and two females were observed pregnant in consecutive years despite evidence that the gestation period is approximately 1 year for this species. Nine percent of animals carried fishing tackle or exhibited jaw injuries associated with fishery interactions, with multiple individuals found dead after being hooked by fishers.


Mark-recapture Home-range Philopatry Movement patterns Citizen science Hawaiian Islands 



We thank the 90 photographers who contributed shark images for our analyses (please see full list at, particularly A. Chadwick, B. Groark, C. Hankins, G. Poulain, B. Stohler, and D. Wescott for allowing their images to be used in the figures above. Great thanks to numerous individuals who helped with fieldwork, including: K. O’Brien, J. Johnson, M. Hoesterey, A. Schwanke, P. Fienne, S. Foulger, J. and V. Young, T. TinHan, J. Milisen, J. Dale, and numerous others. Photo-matching efforts benefited greatly from the help of J. Stuart, K. Hurd, T. TinHan, and J. Milisen. S. Liden designed the photo-contribution website and A. McClung and J. Dale provided statistical advice and comments on an early version of the manuscript. This project was funded by grants to NMW from the National Science Foundation (Graduate Research Fellowship #200307790), Budweiser/National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Scholarship program, PADI Project AWARE, American Museum of Natural History Lerner-Gray grant, the University of Hawaii Arts and Sciences Advisory Council, Sigma Xi, the Pritzker Foundation, and Mote Marine Laboratory.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas M. Whitney
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard L. Pyle
    • 3
  • Kim N. Holland
    • 2
  • Jessica T. Barcz
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Shark ResearchMote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Zoology and Hawaii Institute of Marine BiologyUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaCoconut IslandUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural SciencesBishop MuseumHonoluluUSA

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