Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 99, Issue 11, pp 805–812

Effects of lunar phase on predator-prey interactions between white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus)

  • Chris Fallows
  • Monique Fallows
  • Neil Hammerschlag


Predator-prey relationships can be influenced by environmental conditions, including changes in moon phase and associated lunar illumination. Two primary hypotheses have been proposed underlying the effects of moonlight on predator-prey interactions: the predation risk hypothesis and visual acuity hypothesis. However, few studies have tested these hypotheses during twilight hours or involved large mobile aquatic species. In the present study, we evaluated these hypotheses using data collected over 16 years on predator-prey interactions between white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) at sunrise. Data from 1476 natural predation events demonstrated shark attack frequency and seal capture success was significantly higher at sunrise during periods of low (0–10 %) versus high (90–100 %) lunar illumination, which is consistent with the visual acuity hypothesis. We propose that during full moon periods, white sharks at night are at a visual and tactical advantage over seals which are silhouetted at the surface in the moonlight and thus easier to isolate in darkness, while sharks remain camouflaged hunting from below through deep water. However, at sunrise, we hypothesize this advantage shifts to seals as the added lunar illumination, combined with emerging sunlight, may decrease shark stealth and increase the ability of seals to detect and avoid sharks. These finding suggest that lunar effects on predator-prey dynamics can be context specific, likely moderated by visual acuity of predators and prey which may change according to the photoperiod.


Predator-prey interactions Sharks Seals Moon Lunar phase Predation risk 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Apex Shark ExpeditionsCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and PolicyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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