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

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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.

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We thank all the assistants, participants, and filmmakers throughout the years that supported this work, including the guests of Apex Shark Expeditions that made data collection possible. We especially thank Loretta Lutackas who spent months digitizing field notes and organizing all data. Thanks to Natascha Wosnick for formatting the paper. Thanks to Fiona McLellan for data and field assistance. We are grateful to the crew of Apex Shark Expeditions for their daily assistance in data collection. This work was conducted under permits from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and with permission from the University of Miami Institutional Animal Welfare and Care Committee. We thank the reviewers for their comments which helped strengthen our manuscript.

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Correspondence to Neil Hammerschlag.

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Fallows, C., Fallows, M. & Hammerschlag, N. Effects of lunar phase on predator-prey interactions between white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus). Environ Biol Fish 99, 805–812 (2016).

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