Distribution and relative abundance of scalloped (Sphyrna lewini) and Carolina (S. gilberti) hammerheads in the western North Atlantic Ocean

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The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and its cryptic congener, Carolina hammerhead (S. gilberti), are sympatrically distributed in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Because the species are indistinguishable based on external morphology, little research focused on Carolina hammerheads exists. In this study, the distribution of Carolina hammerheads in waters of the United States off the east coast (U.S. Atlantic) and Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) was examined and their abundance relative to scalloped hammerheads assessed by genetically identifying 1231 individuals using diagnostic single nucleotide polymorphisms. Both species were found in the U.S. Atlantic, where 27 % of individuals were Carolina hammerheads, but only scalloped hammerheads were identified in the Gulf. In Bulls Bay, SC, a well-known hammerhead nursery, assessment of relative abundance from May to September showed scalloped hammerheads were more abundant May-June and Carolina hammerheads more abundant July-September. Results of this study suggest Carolina hammerheads have a spatially limited distribution in the western North Atlantic and highlight the importance of Bulls Bay as a nursery for the species. In addition, the results suggest Carolina hammerheads may comprise a non-trivial proportion of what is considered the U.S. Atlantic scalloped hammerhead stock and should be considered in future decisions regarding management of the hammerhead complex.

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Fisheries Research



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