Influence of environmental variables on the diel movements of the Greenland Shark in the St. Lawrence Estuary (2016)

Gallant, Jeffrey J., Marco A. Rodríguez, Michael J. W. Stokesbury, and Chris Harvey-Clark. 2016. Influence of environmental variables on the diel movements of the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus) in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Canadian Field-Naturalist 130(1): 1–14.

Jeffrey J. Gallant¹,5, Marco A. Rodríguez², Michael J. W. Stokesbury3, and Chris Harvey-Clark4
1Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group, Canada
2Département des sciences de l’environnement, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Canada
3Department of Biology, Acadia University, Canada
4University Department of Animal Care, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada
5Corresponding author: info@geerg.ca

The geographic distribution of the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus) extends from the Arctic Ocean to the North Atlantic Ocean. However, little is known about the habitat of this species, as it is generally found at great depths or in the high arctic. In the St. Lawrence Estuary, Greenland Sharks undertake diel vertical movements into shallow water (≤ 30 m), but the reasons for these movements are unknown. To test the hypothesis that environmental variables drive the movements of this shark in the St. Lawrence Estuary, eight Greenland Sharks were tagged with acoustic telemetry transmitters during the summer of 2005. Three environmental factors, temperature, light, and tides, were associated with their movements. Movement patterns indicate a preference for deep, cold water during daylight hours and shallow, warmer water during the night. Ascending into shallow water mostly coincided with darkness and high tide. this improved understanding of the spatio-temporal distribution of the Greenland Shark will allow for assessment of the risk to these sharks from commercial fisheries, as occurs in the Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) longline fishery. In addition, temperature-driven behavioural patterns may change as the thermal structure of the water column shifts due to global warming.

Keywords: Acoustic telemetry; depth; habitat; light; St. Lawrence River; temperature; tide; shark; Greenland Shark; Somniosus microcephalus
Received: 27 February 2015; Accepted: 26 November 2015.

Link to full article: dx.doi.org/10.22621/cfn.v130i1.1784

Jeffrey Gallant, M.Sc., is the Scientific Director of the St. Lawrence Shark Observatory (ORS) and of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). He is also the author of the Diving Almanac and a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine. Jeffrey dove with his first shark, a spiny dogfish, off Halifax (Nova Scotia) in 1991.