Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 98, Issue 8, pp 1953–1964 | Cite as

Habitat suitability and environmental factors affecting whale shark (Rhincodon typus) aggregations in the Mexican Caribbean

  • Ana Hacohen-Domené
  • Raúl O. Martínez-Rincón
  • Felipe Galván-Magaña
  • Natalí Cárdenas-Palomo
  • Rafael de la Parra-Venegas
  • Beatriz Galván-Pastoriza
  • Alistair D. M. Dove


The Mexican Caribbean is considered one of the most important sites for whale shark aggregations. Whale shark groups of over 300 individuals have been recorded frequently. There is little published information regarding the ecology of the whale shark in Mexico, and the role that the Mexican Caribbean plays as habitat for this species. This area has been recognized as important for the whale shark and therefore it is necessary to determine the environmental factors that shape the distribution of these animals. The aim of this study was to identify key environmental factors associated with whale shark feeding aggregations and to determine the patterns in habitat suitability for whale sharks in the Mexican Caribbean through the modeling approach of maximum entropy. Whale shark data obtained for this study included 250 records during April to September (2008–2012). The MaxEnt model performed better than random and produced an area under the curve (AUC) score of 0.946. Primary productivity and sea surface temperature were the variables most strongly related to whale shark sightings. The model predicted a high suitability in areas located to the north of Isla Contoy and the offshore area east of Isla Contoy named “Afuera” (>0.75), with medium suitability north of Cabo Catoche (>0.5) and lower suitability for the northeast of Cabo Catoche (<0.5). The habitat suitability maps also indicated seasonal variations, showing a higher prediction of whale shark sightings during the rainy season (June to October), when primary productivity is higher in the area.


Whale shark MaxEnt model Species distribution Mexican Caribbean 



This work was supported by MEX-US (University of California-CONACYT) in the project “Determination of movement, habitat use, filtration mechanics and diet/food preference of manta rays off the Yucatan peninsula”. Also thanks to CONACYT and PIFI- IPN for fellowships to AHD, and Instituto Politécnico Nacional (COFAA, EDI) granted to FGM. Thank to MVZ Francisco Remolina Suárez, Director Reserva de la Biosfera Tiburón Ballena to develop this project in the protected area.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana Hacohen-Domené
    • 1
  • Raúl O. Martínez-Rincón
    • 2
  • Felipe Galván-Magaña
    • 1
  • Natalí Cárdenas-Palomo
    • 3
  • Rafael de la Parra-Venegas
    • 4
  • Beatriz Galván-Pastoriza
    • 4
  • Alistair D. M. Dove
    • 5
  1. 1.Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR)La PazMexico
  2. 2.Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste - CONACYTLa PazMéxico
  3. 3.Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del IPNMéxicoMexico
  4. 4.Ch’ooj Ajauil ACCancúnMéxico
  5. 5.Georgia Aquarium Research CenterAtlantaUSA

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