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Reproductive biology of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) in Hawaii

Abstract

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is the largest shark in the family Carcharhinidae and the only carcharhinid with aplacental viviparous (ovoviviparous) reproduction. Despite its size and prevalence, many details of tiger shark reproductive biology are unknown. Size at maturity and litter size have been reported by several authors, but a lack of large numbers of pregnant females has made it difficult to determine gestation period, seasonality, and timing of the female reproductive cycle. Here we analyze data from shark control program fishing and incidental catches in Hawaii (n = 318) to construct the most complete picture of tiger shark reproduction to date. Males reached maturity at approximately 292 cm total length (TL) based on clasper calcification, whereas females matured between 330 and 345 cm TL based on oviducal gland and uterus widths. Litter sizes ranged from 3 to 57 with a mean of 32.6 embryos per litter. Data from 23 litters from various months of the year indicate that tiger sharks are usually 80–90 cm TL at birth, and that the gestation period is 15–16 months. Mating scars were observed in January–February and sperm is presumably stored for 4–5 months until ovulation takes place in May–July. Gestation begins in June–July and pups are born in September–October of the following year. Our data suggest that female tiger sharks in Hawaii give birth only once every three years. This could have major implications for conservation and management of this species, as it suggests that tiger shark fecundity is 33% lower than previously thought. This could greatly reduce the ability of this species to rebound from fishing pressure.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Several authors (Branstetter 1981; Branstetter et al. 1987; Randall 1992; Seigel et al. 1995) attribute a proposed gestation period of “13–16 months” to Clark and von Schmidt (1965). However, Clark and von Schmidt did not propose anything more specific than to say that gestation “could be slightly over a year”.

  2. 2.

    The oviducal gland has also been referred to as the “shell” or “nidamental” gland. Given that this gland produces slightly different structures in different species, and also functions as a seminal receptacle, the term “oviducal gland” seems to be the most inclusive (Pratt 1979; Hamlett et al. 2005).

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Acknowledgments

Special thanks to I. Ikehara and A. Tester for setting up research programs that made this paper possible. We are also indebted to all of the dedicated program members whose tireless efforts collected this data. We appreciate the University of Hawaii Zoology Department for maintaining the early shark control program records and providing total access to them. B. Wetherbee and C. Lowe spent many hours with GLC placing data sheet records into digital spreadsheets. K. Holland and R. Grubbs shared specimens for this study, and S. Kaiser provided many hours of boat time that made it possible to collect the 1990s data. This manuscript was greatly improved by comments from J. Carrier, J. Castro, R. Grubbs, H. Pratt, A. Rossiter, and two anonymous reviewers. A NSF pre-doctoral fellowship to NMW expedited the completion of this study.

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Correspondence to Nicholas M. Whitney.

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Communicated by P.W. Sammarco, Chauvin.

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Whitney, N.M., Crow, G.L. Reproductive biology of the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) in Hawaii. Mar Biol 151, 63–70 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-006-0476-0

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Keywords

  • Pregnant Female
  • Gestation Period
  • Tiger Shark
  • Oviducal Gland
  • Embryo Length