Departure behaviour of juvenile southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) from southern Western Australia temperate waters in relation to the Leeuwin Current
The arrival of the warm tropical Leeuwin Current (LC) into southern Western Australia (SWA) may influence the movement timing and foraging habitat of juvenile southern bluefin tuna (SBT). Seasonal and interannual changes in the strength of the LC lead to thermal differences and potential changes in food availability between tropical and temperate waters in SWA. This phenomenon could influence the habitat utilization of SBT in these summer grounds. Movement characteristics determined from SBT tagged with acoustic transmitters (N = 244) using cross-shelf lines of automated receivers for three summer-autumn seasons (2004/2005, 2005/2006, 2006/2007) in SWA revealed interannual variability. Each year, the eastward movements of tagged fish increased as temperatures increased, and fish left the region when temperatures exceeded 20.0°C, a temperature indicative of the leading edge of the LC in SWA waters. Interannual fluctuations in the timing of movements were detected. When the LC was narrow and restricted to the shelf edge in 2004/2005, the distribution of SBT in shelf waters did not change before or after LC intrusion. In contrast, long distance eastward movements frequently occurred when the LC intrusion was spread wide over the continental shelf in 2005/2006 and 2006/2007. This suggests that, off SWA, juvenile SBT move quickly out of local foraging habitats defined by cool sub-tropical temperate waters ahead of the tropical LC intrusion, despite these waters not being physiologically limiting. These results suggest that the behavioural response of SBT may be related to changes in prey availability as a result of changes in oceanographic conditions.