Feeding habits of the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico

Abstract

Tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are apex predators that may structure marine communities through predation. Despite a large number of studies in other areas such as the Pacific Ocean, there are no quantitative data on the diet of tiger sharks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Diet was assessed from 169 tiger sharks by life stage, area, and environmental factors. Fifteen prey groups were identified, with teleosts, molluscs, birds, cephalopods, and reptiles being the predominant prey categories. There was an ontogenetic shift in diet, prey size and diversity. Molluscs were the most common prey in smaller sharks, while teleosts and reptiles became more important in the diet of larger sharks. Dietary overlap was significant by area (Gulf of Mexico vs Atlantic Ocean) and among all life stages except for young-of-the-year and adult tiger sharks. Juvenile tiger sharks also demonstrated selective feeding by targeting gastropod feet over ingesting the entire animal. While results were similar to feeding studies conducted on tiger sharks in other ocean basins, an understanding of area-specific trophic interactions is necessary to inform decision support tools for ecosystem-based approaches to management.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the staff of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Panama City Laboratory in Panama City Beach, FL, and the staff of the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Narragansett Laboratory in Narragansett, RI. We are especially grateful to M. Enzenauer and all the at-sea observers for collecting stomachs and to A. Kroetz for her help with PRIMER. Partial funding for the project was provided by the Edna Bailey Sussman Foundation. All specimens that were collected as part of commercial fishing activities are regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service Federal Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfishes and Sharks. All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Correspondence to Alexandra C. Aines.

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Aines, A.C., Carlson, J.K., Boustany, A. et al. Feeding habits of the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Environ Biol Fish 101, 403–415 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-017-0706-y

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Keywords

  • Prey diversity · Dietary analysis · Ontogenetic dietary shift · Elasmobranch · Predation · Stomach contents