Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Steven A. Murawski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Christopher D. Stallings, Ph.D.

Committee Member

José I. Castro, Ph.D.

Keywords

community analysis, elasmobranch, gulper shark, population dynamics

Abstract

In chapter 1 I describe the population dynamics of an understudied species of gulper shark, Centrophorus uyato (common name, the Little Gulper), found in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Sharks in the family Centrophoridae are mid-sized, demersal fish, with seven species identified in North American waters. These deepwater species can be difficult to study due to the extreme depths at which they occur. During four longlining cruises from 2012-2014, 593 sharks were landed, predominantly in the Mississippi Canyon off the Louisiana coast. Mean depth of capture was 290 m. Supplementing these data are catch records for C. uyato from a second series of cruises east of these stations. These data suggest the Little Gulper displays sexual dimorphism in its population size structure, similar to other elasmobranchs. Length frequency distributions, sex ratios by length, and length-weight curves were similar for both catch series, however females comprised a greater fraction of the catch from Mississippi Canyon stations compared to those further east. The high incidence of females in the region may indicate the use of Mississippi Canyon as a nursery for C. uyato, and the species' tendency to sexually segregate at some point in its life history. A high number of large, pregnant females, along with observations of recently delivered animals, was noted at the Mississippi Canyon sites.

Little Gulper sex ratios by length exhibited a characteristic "notch", indicative of a low female-to-male ratio at intermediate lengths, then a reversal to female dominance at the largest sizes captured. I modeled this curve under various assumptions of growth, mortality, and longevity for the species. The combination of the von Bertalanffy growth parameter, K, and the total instantaneous mortality rate, Z, that best fit the data suggests a population of slow growing, long-lived animals with a differentially higher growth rate for males.

In chapter 2, I examine species associations among elasmobranchs in the Northern Gulf of Mexico in relation to depth of capture. From 2011-2014, 3609 sharks, comprising 31 species in 10 families, were landed on five long-lining cruises throughout the Northern Gulf and along the West Florida Shelf. Stations were grouped a priori according to depth into one of three categories, based on pre-existing divisions in the station data: 0-73 m (shallow), 110-146 m (intermediate), and 183 m or greater (deep). Using a non-parametric multivariate analysis of variance (NP-MANOVA) and a pairwise test found I found significant differences in species composition among all three depth groupings. Gulf Smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus) and Atlantic Sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) contributed most to the differences, and also accounted for over 65% of the total catch. A canonical analysis of principal coordinates (CAP) showed mid-water species such as the Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) to be more indicative of intermediate depth stations, while the Little Gulper (Centrophorus uyato) and Shortspine Dogfish (Squalus mitsukurii) distinguished deepwater sites. A "leave-one-out cross-validation" (LOO-CV) procedure correctly re-classified 78% of the samples back into their a priori groupings; catches from the shallow and deep groups were never confused for one another, although there was moderate confusion with classifying catches from intermediate stations. Taking into consideration the potentially large movements undertaken by many shark species on both small and large time scales, as well as additional biological and physical drivers for range and location, it is unsurprising that these animals would be present in two or more depth groups, and thus more frequently misclassified.

I also performed a second analysis grouping the stations according to their location on the West Florida Shelf, or in the eastern or western quadrants of the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Again I found significant differences among the species composition of all three station groups, but the LOO-CV overall reclassification success rate was lower than when the stations were grouped according to depth. There was also a smaller interval between this reclassification success rate and one performed using random group allocation.

Both of these chapters provide data on previously poorly understood species and phenomena in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. These data are important in defining the potential susceptibility of shark species and communities to future threats, including by-catch in fisheries and contamination events such as shallow and deepwater oil spills.

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