Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


John A. Musick


Chesapeake Bay is possibly the largest summer nursery for Carcharhinus plumbeus in the western Atlantic. Longline sampling conducted from 1990--1999 was used to delineate this nursery spatially and temporally. Catch data from 83 longline stations sampled throughout the Virginia Chesapeake Bay were analyzed as a function of nine physical and environmental variables to delineate this nursery spatially. Tree-based models determined which variables best discriminated between stations with high and low catches and indicated that complex distribution patterns could be adequately modeled with few variables. The highest abundance of juvenile sharks was predicted where salinity was greater than 20.5 and depth was greater than 5.5 meters. Longline data from 100 sets made at two standard stations in the lower Bay indicated that immigration occurred in late May and early June and was highly correlated with increasing water temperature. Emigration from the estuary occurred in late September and early October and was highly correlated with decreasing day length. Between 1995 and 2000, 1846 juvenile C. plumbeus were tagged. With two exceptions, recaptures made in summer months were within 50 kilometers of the tagging location. Those recaptured in winter months were caught between 200 and 830 kilometers from the tagging location and indicated that the coastal waters of North Carolina and South Carolina serve as important winter nurseries from late October until May. Tag recaptures made in subsequent summers suggest that most juvenile sandbar sharks return to the same summer nurseries annually. Ultrasonic telemetry was used in investigate the diel activity patterns of juvenile C. plumbeus in Chesapeake Bay. Ten sharks were tracked for 10 to 50 consecutive hours. Swimming direction was correlated with mean direction of 2 tidal currents. Mean activity space was conservatively estimated to be 110 km2, which is two orders of magnitude greater than that reported for other carcharhiniform species. Swimming depth ranged from surface to 40 meters and was significantly deeper during the day (12.8 meters) than during the night (8.5 meters). This diel activity pattern and large activity space is hypothesized to be an adaptation for foraging on patchy prey in a productive, yet dynamic, temperate estuary.



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