Accuracy of using visual identification of white sharks to estimate residency patterns

03 Dec 2012

Determining the residency of an aquatic species is important but challenging and it remains unclear what is the best sampling methodology. Photo-identification has been used extensively to estimate patterns of animals’ residency and is arguably the most common approach, but it may not be the most effective approach in marine environments. To examine this, in 2005, we deployed acoustic transmitters on 22 white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in Mossel Bay, South Africa to quantify the probability of detecting these tagged sharks by photo-identification and different deployment strategies of acoustic telemetry equipment. Using the data collected by the different sampling approaches (detections from an acoustic listening station deployed under a chumming vessel versus those from visual sightings and photo-identification), we quantified the methodologies’ probability of detection and determined if the sampling approaches, also including an acoustic telemetry array, produce comparable results for patterns of residency. Photo-identification had the lowest probability of detection and underestimated residency. The underestimation is driven by various factors primarily that acoustic telemetry monitors a large area and this reduces the occurrence of false negatives. Therefore, we propose that researchers need to use acoustic telemetry and also continue to develop new sampling approaches as photo-identification techniques are inadequate to determine residency. Using the methods presented in this paper will allow researchers to further refine sampling approaches that enable them to collect more accurate data that will result in better research and more informed management efforts and policy decisions.