To identify the timing and location of spawning activity for bonefish (Albula spp.) in the Bahamian archipelago, we used an acoustic telemetry array spanning 44 km2 of shallow tidal creeks, flats, and adjacent deeper coastal waters near Cape Eleuthera. In two successive years, we surgically implanted transmitters in male and female bonefish (n = 60) and examined their movement patterns within the array. Eight bonefish surgically implanted with transmitters as part of an earlier study were also tracked. In 2009, the telemetry information was complemented with snorkeling observations, underwater video, and manual tracking of the same acoustically tagged fish, as well as fish (n = 3) gastrically implanted with continuous transmitters. During a period of 4-7 days spanning the full and new moons, primarily between October and May, bonefish moved from their typical shallow flats and aggregated at sites in close proximity to the deep water drop-off of the Exuma Sound. Localized movements of the large schools of bonefish (often >1,000 fish) at these presumptive pre-spawning aggregation sites included brief trips (<8 h) just after sunset until just prior to sunrise to the abyssal wall at the edge of the Exuma Sound (i. e., >1,000 m depth). Tagged bonefish detected at these aggregation sites were subsequently detected back in the tidal creeks and coastal flats shortly after new and full moons and remained at these more typical shallow sites (i.e., <2 m depth). Although we did not directly observe spawning events, we did observe ventral nudging and porpoising behaviors, which are potentially associated with courtship. Timing of the observed movements and possible courtship behaviors was coincident with periods when gametes were well developed. Collectively, our study provides the first objective evidence suggesting that the aggregation and seasonal migration of bonefish to deep shelf environments during certain moon phases is for spawning.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science