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Keywords:

  • Aggregation;
  • fisheries impact;
  • sharks;
  • social behaviour;
  • social networks;
  • social organization

Abstract

There are widespread records of grouping behaviour in both adult and juvenile sharks and rays (Class Chondrichthyes, Subclass Elasmobranchii). Yet despite burgeoning descriptions of these events, many of the proximate and ultimate causes of group living in these top predators remain elusive. Given the documented negative anthropogenic effects on many shark populations globally, there is an increasing need to understand how behaviourally mediated grouping influences population distributions and abundance, and the role this plays in exacerbating vulnerability to fishing mortality. Here, we analyse group living in elasmobranchs: we describe our current understanding of the patterns, mechanisms and functions of both aggregation (where grouping is not driven by social mechanisms) and social grouping (where grouping is influenced by social interaction) and discuss some of the current methods used to study social behaviour in this taxa. In particular, social preferences in elasmobranchs have received relatively little attention. We propose that the study of shark aggregations may benefit from a more fine-scale analytical approach offered by detailed exploration of social interactions using social network analysis. Better understanding of the frequency and longevity of social relations, in conjunction with current long-term data on habitat use and site philopatry, will likely serve for a more informed approach to coastal and pelagic elasmobranch conservation initiatives.