Vertical and horizontal movements of southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) in the Great Australian Bight observed with ultrasonic telemetry


Davis, Tim L. O., and Clive A. Stanley
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The vertical and horizontal movements of southern bluefin tuna (SBT), Thunnus maccoyii, in the Great Australian Bight were investigated by ultrasonic telemetry. Between 1992 and 1994, sixteen tuna were tracked for up to 49 h with depth or combined temperature-depth transmitting tags. The average swimming speeds (measured over the ground) over entire tracks ranged from 0.5 to 1.4 m/s or 0.5 to 1.4 body lengths/s. The highest sustained swimming speed recorded was 2.5 m/s for 18 hours. Horizontal movements were often associated with topographical features such as lumps, reefs, islands and the shelf break. They spent long periods of time at the surface during the day (nearly 30%), which would facilitate abundance estimation by aerial survey. At night, they tended to remain just below the surface, but many remained in the upper 10 m throughout the night. SBT were often observed at the thermocline interface or at the surface while travelling. A characteristic feature of many tracks was sudden dives before dawn and after sunset during twilight, followed by a gradual return to their original depth. It is suggested that this is a behavior evolved to locate the scattering layer and its associated prey when SBT are in waters of sufficient depth. SBT maintained a difference between stomach and ambient temperature of up to 9°C.