Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 102, Issue 2, pp 175–184 | Cite as

Behavioral observations of bonefish (Albula vulpes) during prespawning aggregations in the Bahamas: clues to identifying spawning sites that can drive broader conservation efforts

  • Andy J. DanylchukEmail author
  • Justin Lewis
  • Zack Jud
  • Jonathan Shenker
  • Aaron Adams


Bonefish are typically thought of as ‘flats fish’ that reside in shallow, tropical and subtropical nearshore coastal waters. However, evidence from tagging and acoustic tracking studies indicate that bonefish migrate to staging areas, form large aggregations (>5000 individuals), and then move to deep-water drop-offs at dusk to spawn. Because the offshore spawning occurs under the cover of darkness, visual observations of the actual bonefish spawning events are not possible. Fortunately, behaviors during pre-spawning aggregations provide clues related to putative spawning bouts. For multiple locations in The Bahamas, we report on repeatable, predictable behaviors of bonefish in large prespawning aggregations. Just prior to moving from shallow to deeper waters, bonefish are observed breaking the water surface (‘porpoising’) and then returning to the aggregation. Bubbles are then observed emerging from the swirling aggregation; potentially gas being released from the bonefish. Ventral nudging, when one fish rubs its snout on the ventral region of another, has also been observed, but not as consistently as porpoising. Based on the depth profile of acoustically tagged fish, we hypothesize that porpoising is related to ‘pneumatic assist’ for egg release during spawning bouts. Although these observations provide circumstantial evidence that these behaviors are related to spawning, they are consistent with the prespawning behaviors of other marine fish that broadcast spawn. More research is needed to actually document a spawning bout; however, these clues in addition to other traits may be enough to encourage conservation measures to protect this important life history event for bonefish.


Spawning aggregation Bonefish Behavior Porpoising Offshore movement 



This research was funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT), and conducted under University of Massachusetts IACUC protocol #2013-0031. We are also grateful for the logistical and other in-kind support provided by B. Pinder. C. Pinder, J. Albury, T. Albury, R. Albury, D. Sawyer (Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association), Bair’s Lodge, Abaco Lodge, Mangrove Cay Club, Andros South lodge, Delphi Club, Black Fly Lodge, C. Lewis, L. Lewis, and South Abaco Adventures. Danylchuk is a BTT Research Fellow, and also supported by the National Institute of Food & Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Massachusetts Agricultural Experiment Station and Department of Environmental Conservation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental ConservationUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Bonefish & Tarpon TrustCoral GablesUSA
  3. 3.Florida Oceanographic SocietyStuartUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ocean Engineering and Marine SciencesFlorida Institute of TechnologyMelbourneUSA
  5. 5.Harbor Branch Oceanographic InstituteFlorida Atlantic UniversityFort PierceUSA

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