Many species undertake long-distance annual migrations between foraging and reproductive areas. Such migrants depend on the efficient packaging, storage and utilization of energy to succeed. A diverse assemblage of organisms accomplishes this through the use of lipid reserves; yet, it remains unclear whether the migrations of elasmobranchs, which include the largest gill breathers on Earth, depend on such a mechanism. We examine depth records from pop-up satellite archival tags to discern changes in buoyancy as a proxy for energy storage in Eastern Pacific white sharks, and assess whether lipid depletion fuels long-distance (approx. 4000 km) migrations. We develop new algorithms to assess body condition, buoyancy and drift rate during drift dives and validate the techniques using a captive white shark. In the wild, we document a consistent increase in drift rate over the course of all migrations, indicating a decrease in buoyancy caused by the depletion of lipid reserves. These results comprise, to our knowledge, the first assessment of energy storage and budgeting in migrating sharks. The methods provide a basis for further insights into using electronic tags to reveal the energetic strategies of a wide range of elasmobranchs.
Keywords: bioenergetics; buoyancy; migration; white shark.