Eating or meeting? Cluster analysis reveals intricacies of white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) migration and offshore behavior

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47819. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047819. Epub 2012 Oct 29.


Elucidating how mobile ocean predators utilize the pelagic environment is vital to understanding the dynamics of oceanic species and ecosystems. Pop-up archival transmitting (PAT) tags have emerged as an important tool to describe animal migrations in oceanic environments where direct observation is not feasible. Available PAT tag data, however, are for the most part limited to geographic position, swimming depth and environmental temperature, making effective behavioral observation challenging. However, novel analysis approaches have the potential to extend the interpretive power of these limited observations. Here we developed an approach based on clustering analysis of PAT daily time-at-depth histogram records to distinguish behavioral modes in white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). We found four dominant and distinctive behavioral clusters matching previously described behavioral patterns, including two distinctive offshore diving modes. Once validated, we mapped behavior mode occurrence in space and time. Our results demonstrate spatial, temporal and sex-based structure in the diving behavior of white sharks in the northeastern Pacific previously unrecognized including behavioral and migratory patterns resembling those of species with lek mating systems. We discuss our findings, in combination with available life history and environmental data, and propose specific testable hypotheses to distinguish between mating and foraging in northeastern Pacific white sharks that can provide a framework for future work. Our methodology can be applied to similar datasets from other species to further define behaviors during unobservable phases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Diving / physiology
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Satellite Communications
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Sharks / physiology*
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors

Grant support

This project was funded by the Sloan, Moore and Packard Foundations as a part of the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP) program of the Census of Marine Life. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation also provided financial support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.