Divers help identify leopard shark hotspot

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The existence of a key global hotspot and potential breeding area for leopard sharks has been revealed in Mozambique by the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF). His new study was carried out in collaboration with the University of Swansea and the voluntary organization All Out Africa.

Based on their findings, scientists recommend species-level protection and the expansion of marine protected areas to protect animals, also known as zebra sharks.

The team used underwater surveys and identification photos submitted by recreational “citizen science” divers to track individual leopard sharks, which have unique spot patterns. During the study, the researchers helped create the wild book for leopard sharks, a global online database through which any diver can submit photos.

Images taken between 2010 and 2018 managed to identify 90 individual sharks of both sexes, 38% of which were seen over several years, indicating an affinity for the area. Over 62% of the sharks were mature.

A high frequency of adult male and female sharks in a small area indicates a breeding area – prime habitat for protection.

Scientists also interviewed 100 local fishermen to identify potential habitats, as they were likely to encounter sharks as bycatch in gillnets. The combined information was used to create distribution maps, with habitat modeling identifying other potential locations for the study.

“When used in combination, fisherman observations and dive surveys can complement each other,” said lead author Saoirse Pottie. “Fisherman surveys can collect information about sightings at a larger spatial scale than underwater surveys, but diving surveys are able to provide more detailed information about the movements and behavior of individuals. “


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