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That's quite a handful of prominent authors - but in essence, this is a re-interpretation of some of the data collected by Richard, Adam and Ian whilst on the venerable Undersea Explorer that have already led to this paper from 2012 I posted about here.
Which is why the authors stress that much of the above is speculation.
The experimental design was aimed at deciphering long-term movements, and the present fine-scale analysis is very much based on inference rather than actual scientific evidence; but having said that, Richard and Adam have logged hundreds of man hours at Raine, and tell me that actual predation events on healthy Turtles are very rare and tend to be confined to the start of the breeding season when there are less Turtles and the Tigers are just arriving hungry. On a busy year, Raine will yield up to 2,000 dead Turtles, meaning that after a while, the Tigers are more than sated and really could not care less about chasing after healthy Turtles.
Like I said, very nice - but now things are changing.
BHP the mining giant is giving a lot of money to the Raine Island Green Turtle Recovery Project, and the island is being made more Turtle-friendly by eliminating features that could kill them and by protecting the nests against inundation. This means that less turtles will have accidents, and that any distressed Turtle will be aided by the turtle lovers and consequently, adult Turtle mortality has already been reduced by 50%.
And the Tigers?
What happens at Raine is part of a system - and if you tinker at one end, it stands to reason that there will be consequences at the other.
Will the Sharks predate more on healthy individuals whilst expending more energy in the process - and if predation increases, will that have an effect on the behavior of the Turtles? Or will the Tiger Sharks gradually stop coming? And what are the effects of this diminishing resource on their population?
Here's what I think - and yes I'm totally speculating.
Research in Hawaii has shown that those Tiger Sharks are able to regularly exploit determined ephemeral resources, and our own observations at Shark Reef indicate the same for our Bulls at Shark Reef. In essence, one of those Sharks will stumbles upon an opportunity, is able to memorize the experience and will henceforth come back to exploit it. This is learned individual behavior, not something that is genetically encoded or communicated by conspecifics or the like.
At the same time, our observations and those of the GWS people indicate that individual Sharks will favor determined strategies, e.g. individual GWS will attack the teaser bait consistently in one determined way; and on Shark Reef where we have a hand feeding and a bin feeding tribe of Bulls with very little overlap, those specialized hand feeding Bulls will gradually stop visiting when we temporarily suspend hand feeding,
Could it be the same for Raine Island?
Could there be always the same Tigers, and could those individuals be specialized scavengers that would not switch to outright predation but instead, would eventually stop coming once there are not anymore enough carcasses to feed on?
Dunno - but that's certainly testable, or not?
And another thought.
If one believes Domeier -and I certainly do- what happens at Guadalupe is essentially a GWS feeding and mating aggregation. Could the food pulse during the pupping season of the Northern Elephant Seals maybe even trigger mating, and could it be important for the success of the ensuing pregnancies?
And could what happens at Raine Island be the same, meaning that if the Shark aggregation slowly disperses, finding mates would become more difficult and reproduction success would be lower?
Ain't science a wonderful thing! :)