Foraging ecology of silky sharks, Carcharhinus falciformis , captured by the tuna purse-seine fishery in the eastern Pacific Ocean
Diet studies are an essential component of ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. In the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) is the most common species of shark in the bycatch of the tuna purse-seine fishery. A rare, comprehensive dataset of stomach contents of 786 silky sharks sampled in mostly tropical regions of the EPO (25°N–15°S; 79°W–162°W) during 1992–1994 and 2003–2005 was analyzed via classification tree and quantile regression methodologies to gain insight into its ecosystem role. Results suggest that the silky shark is an opportunistic predator that forages on a variety of prey. Broad-scale spatial and shark size covariates explained the feeding habits of silky sharks captured in sets on floating objects, primarily drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). A strong spatial shift in diet was identified by the tree analysis, with different foraging patterns in the eastern (inshore) and western (offshore) regions. Greater proportions of FAD-associated prey than non-FAD-associated prey were observed in the diet throughout the EPO, with the greatest proportion in the offshore region. Thus, silky sharks appear to take advantage of the associative behavior of prey fishes to increase their probability of encountering and capturing prey. Evaluation of prey–predator size relationships showed that maximum prey size increased with increasing silky shark size, but minimum prey size remained relatively constant across the range of shark sizes. Results such as these from spatially oriented analyses of predator feeding habits are essential for populating ecosystem models with space-based food webs, which otherwise suffer from generic representations of food webs.