A. Hozumi, S. Kaartvedt, A. Røstad, M.L. Berumen, J.E.M. Cochran, B.H. Jones
Regional Studies in Marine Science, (2018)
Acoustic backscatter, Diel vertical migration, Red sea, Target strength, Whale shark aggregation
An aggregation of sexually immature whale sharks occurs at a coastal submerged reef near the Saudi Arabian Red Sea coast each spring. We tested the hypothesis that these megaplanktivores become attracted to a prey biomass peak coinciding with their aggregation. Acoustic backscatter of the water column at 120 kHz and 333 kHz –a proxy for potential prey biomass –was continuously measured spanning the period prior to, during, and subsequent to the seasonal whale shark aggregations. No peak in acoustic backscatter was observed at the time of the aggregation. However, we observed a decrease in acoustic backscatter in the last days of deployment, which coincided the trailing end of whale shark season. Organisms forming the main scattering layer performed inverse diel vertical migration, with backscatter peaking at mid-depths during the day and in the deeper half of the water column at night. Target strength analyses suggested the backscatter was likely composed of fish larvae. Subsurface foraging behavior of the whale sharks within this aggregation has not been described, yet this study does not support the hypothesis that seasonal peaks in local whale shark abundance correspond to similar peaks in prey availability.