In an attempt to document the migratory pathways and the environmental conditions encountered by American eels during their oceanic migration to the Sargasso Sea, we tagged eight silver eels with miniature satellite pop-up tags during their migration from the St. Lawrence River in Québec, Canada. Surprisingly, of the seven tags that successfully transmitted archived data, six were ingested by warm-gutted predators, as observed by a sudden increase in water temperature. Gut temperatures were in the range of 20 to 25°C--too cold for marine mammals but within the range of endothermic fish. In order to identify the eel predators, we compared their vertical migratory behavior with those of satellite-tagged porbeagle shark and bluefin tuna, the only endothermic fishes occurring non-marginally in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We accurately distinguished between tuna and shark by using the behavioral criteria generated by comparing the diving behavior of these two species with those of our unknown predators. Depth profile characteristics of most eel predators more closely resembled those of sharks than those of tuna. During the first days following tagging, all eels remained in surface waters and did not exhibit diel vertical migrations. Three eels were eaten at this time. Two eels exhibited inverse diel vertical migrations (at surface during the day) during several days prior to predation. Four eels were eaten during daytime, whereas the two night-predation events occurred at full moon. Although tagging itself may contribute to increasing the eel's susceptibility to predation, we discuss evidence suggesting that predation of silver-stage American eels by porbeagle sharks may represent a significant source of mortality inside the Gulf of St. Lawrence and raises the possibility that eels may represent a reliable, predictable food resource for porbeagle sharks.
|Journal||P L o S One|
|Publication status||Published - 2012|