Population structure and residency of whale sharks Rhincodon typus at Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras


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There were 479 reported whale shark Rhincodon typus encounters between 1999 and 2011 at the island of Utila, which forms part of the Meso-American Barrier Reef System (MBRS) in the western Caribbean Sea. The majority of R. typus were found to feed on small bait fish associated with various tuna species. Ninety-five individual R. typus, ranging from 2 to 11 m total length (LT), were identified through their unique spot patterns. A significant male bias (65%) was present. There was no significant difference between the mean ± s.d. LT of female (6·66 ± 1·65 m) and male (6·25 ± 1·60 m) R. typus. Most R. typus were transient to Utila, with 78% sighted only within a single calendar year, although some individuals were sighted in up to 5 years. Mean residency time was modelled to be 11·76 days using maximum likelihood methods.