Benthic reef sharks play an important role in reef ecosystems, but little is known about their abundance or population dynamics. Abundance of the epaulette shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum (Bonnaterre), on Heron Island Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia, was examined via a mark-recapture study. A total of 496 sharks was tagged between July 1994 and August 1997 in a 0.25-km2 area of reef flat, with 80 tagged sharks recaptured for a total of 102 recapture events. Captured individuals ranged in size from juveniles to adults (285–750 mm total length). Recaptured sharks were collected after 1–725 days at liberty and at distances of 0–329 m from their original capture point. The overall recapture rate was 20.6% with an estimated 17.5% tag loss. Population size was estimated using both closed and open population models. Closed population models produced various abundance estimates, with the Chao M(th) ranked best in model performance with an estimate of 2,224 sharks and 95% confidence intervals ranging from 1,730 to 2,916. Open population models produced lower estimates, with the Jolly D model producing an estimate of 559 individuals within the study site and confidence intervals ranging from 26 to 1,092. All models produced density estimations of 0.3 to 1.2 sharks per 100 m2. Based on thorough examination of model assumptions and results, open population models appear to provide the best population estimate within the study area.
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Vol. 61 • No. 3